Sunday, November 1, 2009

Coasters and Corndogs

A trip to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk isn't complete without a round or three of the dime toss game (pictured left). If you aim just right and land a dime in one of the glass dishes swirling by, you can take home your glass treasure. I remember the excitement as a kid, when I landed a dime right inside one of those seemingly precious nick-knacks...who knows after how many dollars worth of dime tosses. Sadly, I have worse aim these days. I didn't win anything during our June trip to Santa Cruz to celebrate my fiance's birthday. I did, however, get to spend some time at the beach and relive the exhilarating terror of the Giant Dipper Rollercoaster, a wooden coaster built in 1924. I also had the pleasure of indulging in a deep fried corn dog as we walked down the boardwalk back to our hotel. The mustard goes so well with the fried goodness of the dough. The dog itself is almost secondary to the whole thing. It was just as I remembered it as a child!

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall...

Strawberry, Nectarine, and Concord Grape Salad. This salad is a tribute to the changing seasons. Bright summer fruits meld well with the intense, dark sweetness of Fall's concord grape. When you pop one grape in your mouth and bite down the fruit slips right out of its inky purple skin. Though you are bound to bite into a seed or two, the inconvenience will likely not phase you. There is something addicting about this flavor. It is the essence of childhood...memories of grape juice, and grape jelly, grape stains, and purple teeth.

There isn't much of a recipe for this one. I made it about 4 weeks ago (I'm a little behind on my blogging, school is in full swing). Just slice the strawberries and nectarines to your liking and add the whole grapes, toss with a little lemon juice to preserve the color of the fruit. If you can't make the salad, honestly just try the grape. It will transport you in the first bite.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Furlough Days and Gelato

The California budget crisis has caused the State Universities to shut down for several days during the semester. In addition professors are forced to take even more furlough days to account for their pay cuts. The upside is that the furlough days extended what was already a long Labor Day weekend! So, I decided to use some of my extra time to make chocolate gelato. I found a recipe for Gelato Siciliano, or Sicilian Gelato in a supplement to Saveur magazine which I received with my subscription.

I ate gelato on a daily basis over a summer spent in Siena when I was in college (undergrad), years ago. I was really homesick at first and so when I wasn’t eating
Nutella on cookies as comfort food, I was eating gelato. From there the gelato eating just became a very delicious habit.

Sicilian style gelato according to this recipe is made with whole milk thickened with corn or rice starch. It is basically the consistency of pudding before being processed in an ice cream maker. Gelato doesn’t have eggs or cream so it is less rich than American ice cream.

Also, in Italy I believe the milk is not homogenized whereas in the United States it is. The process of homogenization breaks the milk fat into small particles preventing the fat from separating from the liquid. This is done by forcing milk at high pressure through a mechanism with tiny holes. So what this means for our gelato is that the consistency will be more like ice cream when made in the United States or wherever you are that the milk is homogenized. By “more like ice cream” I mean it will have a harder consistency at the outset and will not melt as fast as real gelato you eat in Italy. This is unfortunate for people like me who have a craving for the real thing. I do love ice cream too though, so things really aren’t that bad now that I’m in my kitchen in San Francisco getting ready to make American Gelato Siciliano.

Since one of my favorite ice cream flavors (besides peanut butter and chocolate) is Swiss Orange Chip from
Swenson’s, I decided to alter the chocolate gelato recipe slightly to see if I could replicate the flavor. Swiss Orange Chip is orange flavored chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks. Replicating Swiss Orange Chip flavor at home seems like it would be an impossible thing to do. If you’ve ever had this flavor at Swenson’s you know what I mean. It’s quite euphoric and is delicious to the last drop of the pint, even when the pint is consumed in one sitting. It’s refreshing yet decadent and chocolaty.

I have been going to Swensen’s since I was a little kid. There used to be a parlor in Napa where I spent the early part of my childhood, it has long since closed down. I had a birthday party there when I was very little and I still remember sitting in the enormous booth eating ice cream out of the glass dish. I remember birthday balloons and the light coming in the windows, my mom there next to me and all my little friends in their doll-like party dresses. Ah, sweet memories.

Apparently Swensen’s has expanded a little. They now have shops not only throughout the U.S. but also in Asia, the Middle East and South America. They are big in
Singapore, where you can find food items such as, “Claypot Spicy Laska” on their “Asian Delight” menu. It sounds delicious, but it is definitely not the Americana ice cream parlor I remember from my childhood.
We have a Swensen’s in San Francisco over on Russian Hill. It does serve the delicious Swiss Orange Chip, but it’s just a to-go shop, no fancy booths to sit in. Wow, when I started this blog post about gelato I didn’t realize it would lend itself to talking about so many places around the world. That would make a cool geography research paper, “the geography of ice cream”. I’ll file this one away for sure.

This gelato recipe is very easy to make. The one drawback is that you need an ice cream maker. I use an ice cream attachment to my KitchenAid stand mixer which consists of a mixing bowl that is placed in the freezer for 24 hours. The special bowl has liquid within its thick wall which causes the ice cream to freeze while it’s churning. The churning component hooks up to the part of the mixer where the beater, whisk, or dough hook would normally go. After 20 minutes or so you have a very soft ice cream, which can then be frozen overnight to achieve a more frozen consistency. If you choose to eat it straight away, it is still not going to be like real gelato, sorry. It’s more of a runny, not frozen ice cream.

I altered the following gelato recipe by steeping finely grated orange zest in the milk and adding a tablespoon of orange extract. Also, once the ice cream was at the very end of the churning stage I added coarsely chopped chocolate chips. Adding solid ingredients is always best left to the end when the mixture has thickened so that the solids are distributed throughout, instead of sinking to the bottom. The flavor was surprisingly similar to the real Swiss Orange Chip, although maybe slightly more chocolaty, not a problem for me. While I don’t think it is nearly the same as the gelato I have had in Italy it was very good and I would highly recommend the recipe. Here it is (modified by me)…

Gelato Siciliano (Swiss Orange Chip flavor)
4 cups of whole milk
Zest of 1 large orange, finely grated
Orange extract
1 cup sugar
2 ¼ tbsp. corn or rice starch
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Chocolate chips, roughly chopped

-Bring 3 cups of milk, orange zest and orange extract to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from heat and let steep.
-Combine remaining 1 cup of milk with the sugar, starch and cocoa, then stir into the hot milk mixture until the cocoa powder is dissolved.
-Return the pan to heat and cook, stirring until the mixture thickens slightly. This should take about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
-Allow the mixture to cool and then cover and refrigerate over night.
-Process in ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions.
-Enjoy with a flakey wafer if you want the true Swensen’s experience!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Adventures with chicken and my first week of school

This has been a full first week of Geography classes and cooking. I love my classes so far and they all seem to fit together nicely. This semester at San Francisco State University, I am taking seminars in Urban Geography and Environmental Management, as well as a Human Geography Field Methods class. I have so much more time this semester to spend at the library absorbing information, it’s a great feeling. Everything I’ve been learning the last three semesters seems to be coming together. Before, I could only see the trees and now the forest is starting to materialize! It helps that I’m only working 8 hours a week instead of the insane 18 hours I worked last semester. I know that sounds funny to people with full-time jobs who must think I have no concept of what it’s like in the real world. Not true. I did have a full time job before going back to school. Although I will admit, it did seem to me cruel and unusual at times. Trying to balance work stress with school stress has tended to undo me, so less hours is helping immensely. Ah, and I have found that taking the time to cook and enjoy food is helping so far...It is early in the semester though, so we shall see how it goes….

Saturday we went to the beach at Marin Headlands. It was an unusually sunny day around the bay, not the usual socked-in fogginess that makes it feel like January in the summer. So, after a couple of hours of my agonizing about not going to the library, we headed out over the Golden Gate and enjoyed the weather. I did get some reading done at the beach, I have to mention in case anyone who cares about my study habits is reading. I also saw a classmate at the beach which made me feel much better about my delinquency in not going to the library on this beautiful Saturday.

When we got home I opened a bottle of cold, buttery Chardonnay and began to prepare dinner. I roasted a whole chicken! I’ve been really into working with the whole chicken for the past year or so. It used to seem overwhelming, reaching in to pull out the gunk (livers and gizzards - I still don’t quite know what a gizzard is) from inside the sad little cadaver, plucking the left over feather follicles. Now, no big deal! I can even debone the poor little thing without flinching – cracking the back is a little satisfying for some reason, it must be the early human in me. I found a great video on Epicurious, demonstrating how to debone a chicken. I highly recommend watching it several dozen times before attempting the procedure. Otherwise you will end up like me…with chicken goo hands trying to rewind the online video to the place where you think things went astray for you and your poor little partially deboned chicken. Not pretty or sanitary.

I’ve been on a Tuscan-food binge lately so I roasted the whole chicken with copious amounts of olive oil – given to me as a gift from my brother who works for the California Olive Ranch in Oroville, CA. That connection will come in handy for years to come I hope, yippy! It’s good stuff, too. I did a taste test comparing his oil to an Italian brand I also had in the kitchen. Not that I know what I’m supposed to taste for, besides overall general goodness. My fiancé wouldn’t participate in the slurping-tasting process. He said he wasn’t going to “drink” olive oil – fair enough. It is kind of an odd thing to do and really it’s just as effective for my needs to put some on a piece of bread. But I wanted to be professional about it, get the proper aeration, you know? Is it possible for oil to taste warm and green? That’s what it tasted like to me, like a hot summer day in Tuscany!

Back to the chicken…very simple, besides slathering the chicken with olive oil and S&P, I warmed some fresh garlic in a pan with a little more olive oil, then put that, along with some fresh sage leaves inside the chicken cavity, sprinkled some “Herbs de Napa” on my little poultry friend and popped her into the oven at 375°F for an hour and 30 minutes or so. I have both Herbs de Provence and Herbs de Napa in my cabinet; I’m a little embarrassed to say. I wonder if in France they really have packaged herbs called “Herbs de Provence”. I kind of doubt this, but what the hell, the marketing worked on me apparently – I’m going along with it.

My chicken was a hefty 5 lbs, which I am very proud to have purchased for a little over $5 at Safeway. I was tempted by the organic chicken but it was three times as much and I am on a budget here. The chicken at my local butcher would have been equally as much.

Why do I feel the need to defend my non-organic, Safeway food purchase? There are social and political considerations and I usually feel a little pressure to buy organic. However, what does it mean to identify as an organic food buyer, or not to? What does organic really even mean…when you start looking into the lack of regulation surrounding organic food production? Not to mention the myriad private, for profit entities we rely on to label these products. Is it any more humane to the people involved in growing this food? Is it any smaller scale? Who has access to it? Who gets marked as un-educated for not going along with this, “real food” eating craze, for whatever reason? One really great writer and scholar of such topics is Julie Guthman. Not that organic is in any way negative. Overall it’s a great thing to have food that we don’t have to worry about getting sick from ingesting over time. But that’s just one small part of the equation, and just because something is better than the status quo does not mean we should stop asking questions about it…I digress. For my purposes I bought the cheaper chicken because I was looking for the best deal.

The chicken was delicious, juicy, everything I hoped it would be. With our chicken we had cannellini beans with sage and olive oil, a Tuscan staple (although my beans were not slow cooked, they came out of a can). Dinner was a success! My fiancé is well fed and no doubt, feels loved. Joy radiates through me, or maybe that’s the Chardonnay. I thought I only had one glass, but I slept like a rock and upon waking to go to the library I see we in fact polished off the whole bottle. At least I managed to pick up that chicken bone off of the floor before going to bed. I have a vague, foggy memory of it launching off the cutting board (meatless already, thankfully) to a dusty corner of our small San Francisco size kitchen, amidst my fervent carving frenzy. That’s what a wild night of chicken roasting will do for you.

Roasted Chicken with Herbs and Garlic
1 chicken, 5lb
Salt and pepper to taste
10 fresh sage leaves
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, sliced thinly
Herbs d’ Napa or d’ Provence
Cooking twine
Roasting pan with rack
Instant read thermometer

-Preheat oven to 375° F
-Rinse and dry the chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper inside and out. Place 5 sage leaves inside the chicken cavity.
-Warm the olive oil over medium-high heat (do not let smoke) add the sliced garlic and 5 or so sage leaves, sauté, but do not brown. A couple of minutes should do the trick.
-Use a slotted spoon to remove the garlic and sage and place inside the chicken cavity. Use the remaining oil to baste the chicken, throughout the roasting process. I like to use a pastry brush to make sure I get full coverage with the oil.
-Tie the drumsticks of your little chicken together with cooking twine and tuck its wings behind its back so they don’t burn (the poor little thing). Place the chicken, breast side up in the roasting pan – hopefully you have a rack inside the pan to elevate it above its juices.
-Drizzle with more olive oil with even coverage for the best browning. Sprinkle your chicken with Herbs de Napa or de Provence (depending on which regional-cooking, marketing scheme you have fallen for).
- Roast uncovered, basting occasionally with the left over garlic and sage olive oil until the thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 180° F (about 1 hour, 35 minutes).
-Transfer your chicken to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for about 10 minutes before carving and serving.

Cannellini Beans with Sage and Garlic
1 15oz can Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4-8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 fresh sage leaves, torn
3 tablespoons dry white cooking wine

-Over very low heat simmer beans, olive oil, garlic and sage for 5 minutes.
-Add wine and continue to simmer over very low heat for a few more minutes.
-Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve. Yum!