Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Seriously Fudgy Brownie

Brownies belong to the category of sweet treats people get really heated up about. Cake-brownie lovers can get really mean with the fudge advocates, and vice versa. Although, side note: Are there really any cake-brownie lovers out there? Psh!

I wouldn't even put the two in the same room, and even less have them participate in a brownie tasting party. Well, that's mostly because they probably wouldn't leave any for me. In any case, brownie texture is one serious subject. You'll find articles about how to make the perfect brownie, and sometimes when you think your batch is going to be perfect...it just fails. What I find strange is that even though I admittedly have no problem raising my fist high in the air and proclaiming my love for fudge brownies, I don't really remember if the ones I ate as a child were really all that fudge-like. All I remember is that they sure were good, and I would willingly eat a whole pan of them right now. (Hey, I went to a blood drive this afternoon, so I can have twenty of anything, right? Giving a half liter of blood is a good excuse for chocolate, in my opinion.)

Up until last week, I felt like every time I made a pan of brownies, they just weren't the way I imagined. They were never fudgey (fudgy?) enough, or always undercooked if they weren't a little cakey. And then, I found it. The recipe. You might try other recipes...but I'm pretty sure you'll always go back to this one. I first saw it on Shauna's wonderful blog, Piece of Cake, and have been smitten ever since. Surprisingly, the only source of chocolate is cocoa powder, but these little guys don't disappoint. Super fudgy, super tasty, they're everything you've always asked the Easter Bunny for in a brownie.

I baked half "naked" (whoa, that sounded wrong! I meant to say that I baked half a batch without anything on top, not "half naked"), and the other half topped with peanut butter chips. I don't have a favorite since I could be seen devouring them little bite by little bite (justified by the fact that I wasn't supposed to be baking these for me), and both made me quite happy. And they'll make you happy, too. The Easter Bunny told me so.

Fantastic Brownies
adapted from Piece of Cake, adapted from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet
makes one 8x8-in pan of brownies

Note: that can mean 16 brownies, just like it can mean 4 if your name is Lucie. Just saying!

1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. plus 2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 TS salt
1/2 TS vanilla extract
2 eggs, cold
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. peanut butter chips (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. 
Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth, though it will appear somewhat gritty. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not at all hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well-blended, add the flour and stir until all the streaks of flour disappear, then beat vigorously for 40 more strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Spread evenly in pan. Sprinkle with peanut butter chips, if using.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, about 35 minutes. (Shauna's version said 25 minutes, but it took a little longer for me) Let cool completely on a wire rack. Set the pan in the freezer for 10 minutes (it will make for clean cutting of the brownies). (I didn't have the freezer space for this, but it would definitely help)

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into squares.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gâteau à la Semoule

What were your favorite cakes or snacks when you were growing up?

I'm sure if you were to ask people on the street, you would get some pretty strange answers. French fries dipped in ice cream (American version), cheese dipped in coffee (French version), or chicken liver on skewers, which just might be delicious. Although you'll never see me dipping cheese in coffee, fries in ice cream, or fries in coffee for that matter, I enjoy discovering the cultural differences that appear during childhood.

Most of the time, though, you would probably get the more traditional responses: peanut butter and jelly, brioche with butter and sugar, or something of the sort. I'll admit that I was never a PB&J kind of girl, and I have my maman to thank for that. During lunch, when everyone had their weird sandwich, I would snack on hummus and veggies and come home to a snack of bread with a little milk chocolate. Oh, and ants on a log--remember those? Creamy peanut butter on celery stalks with cute little raisin ants? I inherited a strong dislike for what I thought was really a bizarre mix of ingredients, and I don't believe I ever really enjoyed them. I might now, though, considering that I've become quite a fan of fluffernutter anything and Funfetti cakes--it wouldn't hurt to add peanut butter on vegetables, right?

In France, you won't find any Funfetti cakes, but there's a long list of desserts appreciated by children and adults alike. Many of them are made with some kind of mix of milk and rice or semolina: riz au lait, semoule au lait, and the ubiquitous gâteau à la semoule. True to my not-so-old self, I had never had semolina cake until last month. See, my maman is a fan of rice pudding, so I had quite a bit of that. But my gâteau à la semoule revelation came along when my aunt Mimi told me about desserts she enjoyed growing up. Like every time someone talks about cake, I guess I couldn't hide how excited I was. I was especially happy to learn more about my family's culinary history and all those little things passed on from one generation to the next. 

The next time I arrived in Saint Dié, I stepped into the kitchen and there it was: LE gâteau à la semoule. Needless to say, I devoured it, probably like any other French child--or adult--would. The texture is firm but soft at the same time--huh? that doesn't make sense! Yes it does! Make it and you'll see!

And the caramel? It makes the cake company-, child-, anything-worthy. And you can't really say that about ants on a log, can you? 

Gâteau à la semoule
serves 8

3 eggs
100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar + 50g (1/4 cup) more for caramel
100g (1/2 cup) semolina
1/2 liter (2 cups) milk
vanilla extract (1/2 TS should be enough)

Bring milk and vanilla to a boil in a saucepan. Slowly sprinkle semolina onto milk (in French we say "ajouter en pluie", which means sprinkle it like rain, cute right?) and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing sticks onto the bottom. Remove from heat and cover; let sit for another 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar. Add semolina mixture and stir until blended.

Beat egg whites to stiff peaks and delicately incorporate into the rest of the ingredients.

Make a quick caramel: place 50g sugar and a few drops of water in a heavy bottomed saucepan on low heat. Wait until sugar dissolves and bring heat up to medium. Stir frequently to avoid scorching and remove from heat when caramel is the color you want it--ideally, it shouldn't be too dark here, otherwise the taste will be overpowering. Pour and brush caramel onto the bottom and sides of a greased 8-inch round cake pan.
Pour batter into pan (wrap in aluminum foil if you're afraid of water seeping in), and place pan in a larger roasting pan. Once in the oven, fill larger pan halfway with boiling water.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes, and cover top of the pan with aluminum foil if you feel like it's browning too fast. Cool completely and invert onto a plate. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Faux-Jambalaya, or Fambalaya

I'm not going to enter the longstanding debate about what a real Jambalaya is. Is it a Cajun Jambalaya, without tomatoes, or a tomato-laden Creole one (or is it the opposite)? Does Jambalaya necessarily have ham, chicken, Andouille sausage and shrimp?

All I can say is that Jambalaya, wherever it's served in America, is quite tasty. I also know for a fact that trying to recreate an authentic Jambalaya in France is not an easy task. Some might say that's a little strange, since most Louisiana cooking has somewhat of a French influence. In that case, I'd be more than willing to give you a day-long unlimited metro card so you could get me onion powder, garlic powder, and Andouille. Good luck with that!

I'll admit it: I didn't make use of my subway pass to explore the city for ingredients. Sure, I could have, but...well, I don't have an excuse. But you are all more than welcome to stop by Paris and borrow my metro card for a day if you're up for an onion powder treasure hunt! You can stop by and say hello even if you're not looking for onion powder, though. It would be a little strange if you showed up on my doorstep for the sake of onion powder.

Actually, my inspiration for this strange-looking Jambalaya was a contest for Ebly, a brand that sells wheat berries. In France, it's pretty common to replace rice and pasta with wheat berries once in a while: super moist and good for you, they're a great addition to any meal. I wanted to make something very un-French with this French staple, and Jambalaya immediately came to mind. After a few tweaks and quite a number of substitutions, I was impressed to discover that the original taste was still there. 

It may not be "authentic", but if you can get your hands on some wheat berries, I urge you to try this Fambalaya--which could mean anything from French Jambalaya to Faux-Jambalaya...or even Funny Jambalaya. If the contest was based on who got the most votes, I would definitely try to bribe you with some of this. But it's not, so I'll be eating it all on my own. That is, unless you stop in for my metro card--then you might get a bite of my Funny Jambalaya.

serves 6, or 4 very hungry young'uns

3 TB olive oil
2 TB water
1/2 c. + 1 TB (125g) dried wheat berries
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/3 c. chicken stock
5 oz. smoked sausage, sliced
5 oz. bay scallops
20 shrimp

Spices and Seasoning:

3 dried bay leaves
1 TB hot sauce
1 TS Worcestershire Sauce
1 TS paprika
1 TS herbes de provence (a mix of thyme, oregano)
1 TS Cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, heat 1 TB olive oil over high heat. Add celery, bell pepper and onion. Cook for 3 minutes.
Add garlic, tomato, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.

In a pan, mix wheat berries with 2 TB olive oil and 2 TB water over high heat for a minute. Pour wheat into saucepan and add chicken stock slowly, stirring to mix.

Reduce heat to medium and cook for approximately 10 minutes, until wheat becomes tender. Add shrimp, bay scallops and sausage. Simmer for another 15 minutes.

Before serving, season with paprika, Cayenne, herbs, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Friday, March 19, 2010

La Jambalaya Créole revisitée...en Jambal'Ebly!

Je pourrais presque dire que l'Ebly m'a sauvé la vie. Bon, enfin presque. 

En classe prépa, dans ma petite chambre d'internat, je n'avais évidemment pas de four, pas de plaques de cuisson...en un mot, pas de cuisine. Mais il y avait à coté de ma chambre une petite pièce qui comportait un micro-ondes. Je me suis longtemps creusé les méninges en me demandant ce que je pouvais bien cuisiner à part du popcorn; une excursion au supermarché voisin m'a fait découvrir l'Ebly à cuire dans ce petit appareil. Quelle joie! Autant dire que de l'Ebly à la sauce tomate, j'en ai mangé. Beaucoup.

Et voici que j'apprends l'existence d'un concours mettant en scène une nouveauté de la marque, l'Ebly à poêler. J'ai senti la nostalgie me gagner...jusqu'au moment où j'ai lu que ce conours avait pour premier prix une journée avec William Ledeuil, chef de Ze Kitchen Galerie. Là, ce n'etait même plus de la nostalgie mais plutôt de l'euphorie--ce superbe restaurant se trouve à environ 50 mètres de mon appartement, et je ne pourrais même pas compter le nombre de minutes passées devant  celui-ci à rêver des ingrédients qu'on doit trouver en cuisine.

Plus vite que l'éclair (ou la préparation d'un sachet de blé--ça va vite), j'ai demandé mon Ebly pour participer au concours, qui m'a été très gentiment envoyé. La recette m'est parvenue d'un coup, comme une évidence. Un plat de mon pays d'origine, les Etats-Unis, allié à ce basique familial français qu'est le blé.

Un plat typique de la Louisiane est la Jambalaya. Typique mais atypique, ce plat mêle légumes, épices, riz, et surtout un étonnant mélange de viandes et de fruits de mer: crevettes, poulet, jambon, et saucisse fumée. Quelques changements plus tard, et la Jambal'Ebly était née. Principal atout de cet Ebly à poêler, chaque version (Provençal et Persillade) contient des ingrédients de qualité et des aromates qui rajoutent un petit "je ne sais quoi" au plat. Utiliser du blé plutôt que du riz ajoute une dimension moelleuse qui, associée à des pétoncles, rend ce plat assez irrésistible. On se ressert une fois, deux fois...

Et, comme on dit dans le bayou de la Louisiane: laissez les bon temps rouler!

pour 6 personnes, ou 4 gourmands

3 c. à soupe d'huile d'olive
2 c. à soupe d'eau
1 sachet d'Ebly à Poêler Provençal
1 branche de céleri, coupée en dés
1 grosse tomate, coupée en dés
1/2 poivron vert, coupé en dés
1 petit oignon jaune, haché
1 gousse d'ail, hachée
300 ml bouillon de volaille
150g saucisse fumée, en petites tranches
150g pétoncles fraîches ou décongelées
20 grosses crevettes décortiquées

Epices et Aromates:

3 feuilles de laurier séchées
1 c. à soupe Tabasco
1 c. à café Worcestershire Sauce
1 c. à soupe paprika
1 c. à soupe herbes de provence
1 c. à café piment de Cayenne
sel et poivre

Dans un faitout ou une casserolle, faire chauffer 1 c. à soupe d'huile d'olive à feu vif. Ajouter le céleri, poivron vert et oignon. Faire revenir environ 3 minutes.

Ajouter l'ail, les tomates, le laurier, la sauce Worcestershire, et le Tabasco.

Dans une poêle, commencer la préparation de l'Ebly. Mélanger un sachet d'Ebly avec 2 c. à soupe d'huile d'olive et 2 c. à soupe d'eau. Faire revenir à feu vif quelques instants. Verser le blé dans le faitout et rajouter 300 ml de bouillon de volaille lentement, en remuant.

Réduire à feu moyen et faire revenir environ 10 minutes jusqu'à ce que le blé devienne tendre. Ajouter les crevettes, pétoncles et saucisses. Laisser cuire environ 15 minutes supplémentaires.

Avant de servir, assaisoner avec le paprika, piment de Cayenne, les herbes de Provence, du sel et du poivre.

Servir et déguster immédiatement.

Petite astuce: On peut remplacer la version Provençale par l'Ebly à Poêler Persillade, les deux se marient à merveille avec le plat!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Decadent Dessert

Remember that white chocolate mousse from a few days ago?

OK, now picture it sandwiched in between moistened cheesecake crust and flourless chocolate cake. Just thinking about it makes me want to do cartwheels and backflips, which incidentally I've never been able to do. But a girl can dream, right?

Just like a backflip, this dessert just started springing in my mind. Well, like a backflip, or like a really annoying little child that can't stop nagging. For three days before making it, I just couldn't stop thinking about it. My class notes turned into drawings of trifle-like bowls filled with layers of cake and mousse. I couldn't decide between dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate mousse, or simply a nice flavored whipped cream--that's where my 10 pm outing to the grocery came into play. 
See, I often complain deep in my mind about how much smaller the cereal aisle in France is compared to the US. But we have one thing you don't: the chocolate bar aisle. In the larger supermarkets, called hypermarkets over here, it's one long stretch of really good chocolate. I'm not talking about "chocolate", the cheap stuff you find in a lot of grocery stores in America (although it has its positive aspects). No way--I'm talking Swiss milk chocolate, 75% dark chocolate bars with caramelized almonds. Multiply those by about 30 different possibilities and you get a chocolate bar aisle in France. If you didn't have enough incentive to come over and visit Paris, this is hopefully a piece of information you can't ignore. Chocolate! Everywhere! Alright, I'll stop.

In front of my grocer's chocolate aisle, the white chocolate bars kept calling out my name. White chocolate mousse it was. The rest of the dessert came together pretty quickly--I actually had spiced cheesecake crusts in my freezer from here and a whole lot of flourless chocolate cake from a time I had many eggs and, as the name suggests, no flour. Obviously, I always have chocolate, so that wasn't a problem.

Basically, all I can say is that you should probably make this sometime. It's a nice variation (albeit very varied variation) on a trifle. One word of caution: keep some chocolate cake on the side. Not for your guests, but for you. This cake is absolutely, positively, one of the most addictive things ever. 

I'm not saying I did this, but eating some straight out of the freezer is pretty amazing. Well, I just might have tried some. Several times.

The Decadent
serves 4, plus leftovers

2 TB coffee
1 drop almond extract

Flourless Chocolate Cake
4 eggs
8 oz. (230g) chopped semisweet chocolate
scant 3/4 c. or 11 1/2 TB butter (160g)
scant 3/4 c. (160g) sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 175°C.

Butter a 9-in. springform pan and dust with cocoa powder. 

Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler until smooth. remove from heat. 

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and sugar. Add chocolate mixture and whisk together. Pour batter into prepared pan and cover with a sheet of aluminum foil. 

Put springform pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into second pan, so that it arrives about halfway up the springform pan. 

Bake approximately one hour, until cake is set and a knife inserted in the center comes out with "dry" streaks of chocolate.

Remove cake pan from the water bath and let cool on a rack.

Serve in small slices or freeze for later use.

For layered dessert:

In a small bowl, mix coffee and almond extract. Break cheesecake crust into pieces and dip into coffee. Place on the bottom of four large glasses.

Top with a quarter of the mousse in each glass. Refrigerate for thirty minutes or until set.

Cut half of the chocolate cake into chunks. Place on top of white chocolate mousse.

Topping dessert with toasted slivered almonds is also a delicious option! Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

White Chocolate Almond Mousse

If you're the type that hates white chocolate, please read this anyways. I promise you might enjoy this recipe. Actually, I'm pretty sure you'll adore it.

I've always loved white chocolate. Terrifyingly sweet but perfectly melt-in-your-mouth, I think it's pretty nice. Sure, it's no dark chocolate, but that's because it's totally different. This is where people usually reply "Well yeah. It's not chocolate."

What stops me from buying white chocolate regularly isn't the fact that it's "not chocolate": I'm just too scared I'll polish off the whole bar before you can say "I only eat artisan 78% cocoa chocolate bars", and everyone knows that would ruin an appetite. Or make me regret it on the beach a few months later, because when I start eating something it becomes a trend in my stomach. Having a few squares of white chocolate one day inevitably leads to having white chocolate every day...until it's all gone. And then, my stomach goes along and makes a grocery list of its own. When I'm shopping and picking up a few tomatoes, sometimes my stomach sends me signals to run over to the chocolate aisle or pick up a box of cookies. Since my stomach apparently has the last say, I can't do anything but obey. Not my fault!

However, I was never a fan of white chocolate desserts. I always found them uninspiring and pretty useless. That was until I was at the grocery store at 10 pm on a Wednesday night, wondering whether or not a white chocolate mousse would work in my dessert planned for Thursday (more on that one later). I decided to give it a go, adding a little almond extract here and there for fun. Let me tell you: I was not disappointed. After a day in the fridge, it was the silkiest, smoothest, most billowy thing you've ever seen. 

Sort of like jumping out of a plane and swallowing up a cloud. Not as hazardous and probably tastier, though.

White Chocolate Almond Mousse
makes 4 very generous servings

38 cl (1 and 1/2 cups) heavy whipping cream
120g (4.2 oz) white chocolate (use baker's or couverture if possible; I didn't and it was a tad bit greasier than I hoped)
2 drops almond extract
toasted slivered and chopped almonds (optional)

Reserve a scant 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Place the remaining cream in a medium bowl and mix, using a hand-held or stand mixer, until peaks form and cream is almost stiff.

Chop white chocolate and melt over a double boiler. Set aside. In a small saucepan, bring reserved 1/4 cup cream to a boil, pour over melted chocolate and mix. Mix in a quarter of the whipped cream.

Delicately incorporate white chocolate mixture and almond extract to whipped cream until combined. If using, mix in almonds.

Serve immediately or let the mousse firm up in the refrigerator for as long as needed, up to one day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Swirls Make Everything Prettier

Everyone has heard the story of who invented Scotch tape, zippers, or Post-Its. Most of the time, these inventions stem from some crazy "Eureka!" moment that changes the way the world works. For Post-Its, I'm not so convinced, but they do  make cluttering your apartment with little sticky notes a whole lot easier, that's for sure.

Now I've got a question for you: who came up with the idea of putting swirls in baked goods, and more specifically in bread? It might have been a mother who had a hard time getting her children to eat bread once it hardened, and thought putting something swirly inside would help. Or it might have been a pure coincidence, but it's more fun to tell a  story--hey, remember when Phil tried making bread with cinnamon and ended up with these weird swirls in the middle? So funny!

OK, maybe not. Wherever this tradition of swirly bread may have originated, I fully adhere to it. Bread is already pretty tasty in itself, but having an extra little treat winding its way around is even better. When I was younger, I was a huge fan of the cinnamon nut swirl bread from Strawberry Fields, our local natural/organic food shop. Toasted and slightly buttered, it was a great weekend treat. In fact, I just may fly back home this May just for a taste of it. Not to see my parents, just for the bread. (Note to my wonderful parents: Just kidding, really!)

I've been dreaming about recreating the tastiness that comes along with biting into a fresh slice of cinnamon-swirl bread, where you feel like you won't be able to stop yourself from slicing the whole loaf and eating it up in a few minutes. Back in Saint Dié for a few days, I set out to make cinnamon-swirl bread myself.

All I can say is: yum. Alright, it seriously had nothing to do with the bread I grew up with, where the swirls had a lot more filling. But it was pretty good for a first try, and definitely tasty enough to be my breakfast of choice for the next three days. I left on the third day...otherwise I would have no qualms whatsoever about eating six day-old bread. Especially this one.

I'm all ears (or eyes, I guess) if you have any suggestions to make the filling more...filling-esque!

Cinnamon-Swirl Bread
adapted from marthastewart.com
makes 1 loaf

2 TB unsalted butter, room temperature, plus 3 TB melted butter, plus more for bowl and pan
1/3 c. + 1 TB milk
1/4 c. warm water
1 package active dry yeast
3 TB plus a pinch sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole-wheat flour
1/2 TS salt
1 TS ground cinnamon

Make the dough: Lightly butter a medium bowl and set aside. In a smal saucepan set over medium-low heat, heat 1/3 cup milk and 2 TB butter until bubbles form along the sides of the saucepan. Remove from heat and set aside. In a cup, combine 1/4 c. warm water, yeast, and a pinch sugar. Stir to combine; the mixture should foam in about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, slightly beat 1 egg. Slowly add milk mixture, stirring to combine. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour, a heaping TB sugar, and salt. Mix on low to combine. Gradually add the milk mixture, beating on low until well combined. Add the yeast mixture, beating to combine.

Remove dough to work surface,  and knead until it is silky and smooth and bounces back when pressed with your thumb. Transfer to prepared bowl, turning to coat in butter. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and place in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour. 

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C, with rack in the center. Make the filling: Lightly butter an 8 1/2-by-4-by-2-inch loaf pan; set aside. In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; set aside. 

Remove dough from bowl, and punch it down to remove air bubbles. Knead until silky and smooth. 
Roll the dough into an 8 1/2-by-12-inch rectangle. Brush the surface of the dough with 3 tablespoons melted butter, and sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar. 

Beginning with a long side, roll the dough up into a log. Using your fingertips, be sure to push in at the seam where the dough meets the cinnamon sugar. Carefully pull the dough back to its original 8 1/2-inch width as it shrinks. When you reach the end, pinch the two layers of dough together to seal. Place the roll, seam-side down, in prepared pan. Cover, and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. 

Make the glaze: Whisk together remaining egg and 1 tablespoon milk. Brush over the risen dough. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when thumped with a finger, about 40 minutes. 
Remove from oven, and let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dulce de Leche-Cookies 'n Cream Fudge : A Mouthful

I'll gladly admit it: I love ice cream. I could be really fancy about it and add that my favorite summertime treat used to be blood orange sorbet, but I won't. I'm here to talk about the one you scoop from the tub, and decorate with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, sprinkles and--obviously--a maraschino cherry. As a child, I had three favorite ice creams, and the fact that I can no longer find two of them makes them even more desirable in my mind. Although, when I get nostalgic, I go over to the ice cream shop approximately one minute away from my apartment and get some Nutella or candied chestnut ice cream. Wait, which place am I talking about? Because I have four distinct ice cream places one minute away. Really.

In any case, my favorite ice creams were the store-brand ones. President's Choice, to be precise. "PC", as insiders call it, is a pretty funny brand--it's Canadian, but some strange bilateral treaty made it available in Jewel grocery stores in the early 1990s. That meant our local Jewel was always stocked with Stracciatela ice cream and, seasonally, Candy Cane ice cream. Unless you hate candy canes--and I know some of you out there do--this is a treat if there ever was one. Just one bite and you'll be screaming "Christmas!" and running around trying to hang stockings up anywhere you can.

Now for the third favorite, which contrary to the second is probably shared by many: Cookies and Cream. The sight of black and white itself in a scoop made me swoon, and even though my preference goes towards cookie dough nowadays, I still hold a soft spot in my heart for Cookies and Cream. Then again, who holds a hard spot in their heart for any kind of ice cream? You would have to be a little strange.

So when I came across this recipe for Cookies and Cream fudge by Sinful Southern Sweets, I pictured a solid version of the ice cream, chewy and delicious. No, I'm not referring to astronaut ice cream, although I loved that too--only chocolate and vanilla however. Strawberry? Not so much.

Back to the fudge: I made it as soon as humanly possible, and something strange happened. I carefully kept the whole mixture on low heat as it cooked, and stirred until my arm almost fell out, but the whole thing sort of caramelized. Sort of disappointed in myself, I decided to taste it only when it was set and ready to be cut into pieces. One taste of this edible marble (don't you agree it looks like marble? I would willingly make a countertop out of it) and I was blown away. This wasn't only cookies and cream: this was cookies and cream with dulce de leche. Best of both worlds, I tell you. I'll make it again, and who knows, maybe it'll come out nice and white. For now, though, I'll keep my hybrid fudge--and suggest someone makes an ice cream flavor out of it.

Cookies and Cream Fudge

18 ounces baker's white chocolate
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 c. coarsely crushed Oreos

In a heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt white chocolate, condensed milk and salt. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture reaches 234 °F. Watch it closely!

Remove from heat and stir in crushed cookies.

Spread into a square or rectangular pan (mine is rectangular but smaller than 9x13) lined with wax paper. Chill until firm.

On a cutting board, peel fudge away from wax paper and cut into bite-sized squares. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for a few days.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Istanbul is for Lovers...of Food

I just got back from a quick four-day trip to Istanbul and all I can say is: I'm still full.

You know the feeling. You're in a new city and the strange laws of eating only during meals don't apply anymore. Food is everywhere and given the choice between a yogurt and baklava, I'm sure you can guess which one I would choose. Actually, both, in the case of this wonderful city: yogurt is the drink of choice for those spicy Adana Kebabs or when you're tired of drinking raki, sort of like pastis except it felt more like drinking liquid licorice candy. 

Bad weather aside, Istanbul is a really interesting city. Oh yeah, you thought Istanbul was always sunny and nice? So did I. Until I walked around in the rain all day long by 8° celsius and I came to the realization that cool weather + light leather jacket does not equal "happy Lucie", even with the warmest scarf the world has ever known. Side note: am I the only one who never packs enough warm clothing? I'm always cold yet I always have this lingering hope of feeling really warm and nice and perfect whenever I go on a trip. I imagine myself wearing a nice billowy top, basking in the sun drinking tea by the water. Reality check:

1- I always end up having to add a sweater over that nice top, and it bunches up everywhere and looks awkward and not how I want it to.

2- "basking in the sun" doesn't apply to me: I don't bask, I burn.

Finally, an hour of sunlight!

Oh well. All rolled up in my not-so-warm clothes, I ate my way around Istanbul, and it was really nice. The sights, obviously, were pretty amazing too. But I always feel like getting to those off-the-beaten-path places and seeing what real people (by that I mean non-tourists, not non-robots) eat and how they eat is the best way to discover a new culture. 

Highlights from the trip below!



Dinner on the first night at Antiochia: if you're planning on going to Istanbul, please please go here. The food is amazing and the staff is really nice. They serve specialties from the Hatay region of Turkey and we were really blown away. We had sis et (picture little squiggles underneath the s) and meat wraps (both pictured), as well as amazing mezze and the most delicious candied green walnut dessert. Yum. 

Lunch the next day was at Dürümzade, a tiny dürüm spot serving minced meat wraps. It was apparently featured in Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on Istanbul, and I can understand why. Really tasty and filling--just make sure you don't mind a good dose of raw onion. That's the part where the yogurt drink (in the background) becomes really nice.

I didn't take any pictures of dinner, but we went to famed spot Ciya Sofrasi. I had read a lot about it and how it's probably the best culinary experience in the whole city. To be completely honest, I preferred Antiochia. 

Above is a simple lokum and baklava place near the hotel: nothing fancy and it was actually a chain, but everything sure was good in my opinion. Notice I don't have any pictures of the actual food, although we went there twice. Between getting my camera and eating the sweets right away, my hands made an obvious choice. Two words: chocolate baklava.

Finally, on Monday we had lunch in a small courtyard off to the side of the Grand Bazaar. We were surrounded by Turkish men having a quick lunch so this really wasn't a touristy destination. Too bad for all those tourists, who missed the most moist and spiced meat ever at Kara Mehmet. 

Alright: I thought I was still full, but writing all this just got my appetite going again. Apple tea and baklava, anyone?