Strawberries and Cream

May 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

This Saturday morning, I hit up the Courthouse Market in Arlington because I received a covert message from one of my farmers for Sweetgreen, Chuck Geyer, that he would have the very first strawberries of the season at market.  So out of bed I leapt, and after the requisite cursing for getting lost in Virginia again, I got to the Westmoreland Berry Farm stand 10 minutes before the market ended.

Like a child running for an ice cream truck I skidded up to Chuck and found I was not the only one who had heard the news- Tracy O’Grady and Kate Jansen (two of my women chef heroes) were there picking up boxes of asparagus and flats of strawberries for their restaurant, Willow.  I heard Kate, the pastry chef of the duo, mention something about a rhubarb and strawberry crumble… so if you’ve been meaning to go to Willow, as I have, this would be a great week for it.

Generous as Chuck is, he sent my roommate Lola and I packing with 3 quarts of fresh strawberries, the most perfect ones I’ve ever seen.  In a moment of divine inspiration, I made a mad dash to the Trickling Springs Creamery booth and begged the guys to pull a gallon of milk back out of the truck they had just packed. Thankfully they obliged, and I trekked back to my car with a smile and a plan.  I took advantage of being in the ‘burbs and immediately hit up a Williams-Sonoma to buy  a long coveted appliance to make all my dreams come true- an ice cream maker.

There are very few things in this world that make me happier than homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.  I’ve been positively giddy at the idea since I floated out of the farmers market. I was slightly put off to realize that the bowl of the ice cream maker takes like 12 hours to freeze… but no matter.  The art of eating, like the art of seduction, revolves around one simple concept- anticipation.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

*Makes ten 1/2 cup servings

2 cups Heavy Cream

2 cups Whole Milk

1 2-in piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar (fair trade organic, please)

2 tbsp vanilla extract

Combine cream and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add vanilla bean and heat until mixture lamost boils, about 5-8 minutes (Be careful- once milk starts to simmer it can boil over VERY quickly!!).  Reduce heat to low. Meawhile, beat yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract in a small bowl until light yellow and smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Add 4 tbsp hot cream/milk mixture and stir until combined (fyi this is called “tempering”. You warm up the egg mixture first so it doesn’t shock and turn to scrambled eggs when you add to the hot milk).  Gradually add egg yolk mixture to warm cream mixture, stirring continuously to prevent the eggs from curdling.  Cook over low heat until slightly thickened and mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. about 3-4 minutes. Cool completely.

When cool, scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add the ice cream mixture. Discard bean shell (or stick it in a few cups of sugar for homemade vanilla sugar! Or in vodka for homemade vanilla vodka…). Stir until well combined.  Pour into freezer bowl of ice cream maker (well frozen for 6 hours or more), turn machine on, and let mix for 20-25 minutes, until it thickens. Eat immediately or put into airtight container and back in freezer until firm, about 2 hours.

Cover with sliced strawberries and immerse yourself in the glory that is springtime.

*For strawberry ice cream (which I imagine I’ll make as well) use 1.5 cups each of the milk and cream, omit the vanilla bean, and add 1.5 cups of very finely chopped (or food processor-ed) fresh local strawberries after the cream mixture has cooled completely.

** The cream may be reduced or omitted altogether for a lower-fat ice cream, but make sure you replace the cream with milk or half and half (the amount of liquid must stay the same).

Waste Not, Want Not

May 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve been so busy at work lately that by the time I get home I’m barely even hungry, and certainly not in the mood to cook. This has resulted in slight weight loss (hooray!) but also a fridge full of spoiling food (no hooray).

I’ve been so excited about spring food, that I’ve been stocking up on ramps, asparagus, rhubarb, spring onions, and all kinds of greens… and watching them start to go all yellow and limp is breaking my heart.  So, in an effort to use everything in my fridge in one go, I’ve come up with a few delicious solutions.

Way to use up everything in your kitchen #1: Put in on Pasta.

Fairly obvious, but pasta dishes have become my favorite way to use up bits of food lying around the house lately.  A lovely fresh, whole wheat pasta (mine are from Smith Meadows Farm in VA) is the perfect canvas for any number of flavor combinations.  It’s also a fun way to come up with new recipe, because you are forced to use everything you’ve got instead of going out and buying every ingredient you need at a moments notice (which is also super expensive).   Force yourself to put things together that you’ve never tried before. Especially if they are all in season, chances are the flavors will blend nicely.

My favorite seasonal pasta of the week- Ramps, Mushrooms, and Asparagus with Goat Cheese over Lemon Verbena Pasta.  I ate it 3 times and I still have over a pound of ramps in the fridge (I told you I got excited!).

Way to use up everything in your kitchen #2: Freeze, Pickle or Puree.

Bought too much asparagus? Cut it up and freeze it for an Asparagus Quiche later in the summer.  Caught ramp fever (like me)?  Saute the greens as a side dish, and pickle the bulbs and stems for a tangy bite in sandwiches all season long (i’m planning on doing this myself this weekend, stay tuned for a how-to.)

This afternoon I realized I still had a pound of spicy lettuces that a farmer had given me at the end of market a couple weeks ago (You know they are fresh when they hold that long! ).  I couldn’t think of a thing to do with them, since they were really too spicy to eat as salad greens, and it’s just too damn hot today to turn the stove on to saute.

And suddenly it hit me like a horseradish- Chimichurri!  Two and half  years ago, I spent 5 weeks wandering around South America by myself, and fell head over heels for the pesto-like spicy concoctions that were often served at restaurants in Argentina.  They were always slightly different, so it didn’t seem to matter which herbs or greens were used, so long as there was a good hit of garlic and oil.

So into the Cuisinart my spicy greens went, with a few cloves of garlic, a good dash of salt, and several big glugs of olive oil. Press play and presto! A pungent, peppery bright green spread just begging for a grass-fed skirt steak seared rare on the grill.  In an instant I was back in Buenos Aires feeling the heat from a smoking parilla, my mouth watering for the full-bodied malbec and plates of morcilla, the blood sausage I became so unexpectedly fond of.

Back in my kitchen in DC, the chimichurri went into the freezer for now, having no skirt steak to speak of just yet, but making a mental note to pick one up from EcoFriendly Foods at the market tomorrow.

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