7.31.2016

Magically Delicious

Thirty-four was my scary age. 

The time at which, I was once told, my fertility would drop swiftly, like an Oldsmobile sailing off a cliff.  The time at which being unmarried and without a mortgage would place a searing spotlight on me as an adult fraud.  The time at which I would be guaranteed to die a grim death alone, perhaps eaten by pet canaries.

This, of course, is ludicrous.

I am not alone.  Plus most of my friends are now my scary age.  Which makes my impending situation less frightening. Strength in numbers.

But on the days my consciousness is dialed up, I can detect certain vicissitudes.

I notice that bodily things are starting to shift down, and spread.

I notice that my memory is not as elastic as it once was.  I find myself searching for words like chamomile and amuse-bouche.  This can no longer be correlated with prior gin ingestion, either.

I notice that my friends with children have all vacated the city.  Some days it feels like an emotional fallout shelter—where cultivated adult relationships are unreachable due to nuclear war caused by the whims of toddlers and unaffordable housing. 

I notice that some places I love have vacated as well.  Like the shockingly recently departure of River Gods, a bar that offered equally good beef and vegetable-based burgers; poured decent beers; and hung things like mermaids or witches or stars from ceiling, depending on the season.  I have had multiple friends live near River Gods.  They have since moved too.

But there are new homes of old friends to visit. There are new friends too. There are new restaurants and new recipes, like this frozen negroni I recently stumbled across. Because I am nearing thirty-four and still alive and enthusiastically capable of drinking something alcoholic made in a blender. 

I also recently found a recipe for cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar that I thought might distract my aging corpse.  Except Corn Flakes were a common breakfast option growing up and I felt compelled to bake with the type of cereal that I was never allowed to eat as a child.  Because I am securely an adult and can do such things.

The result is a cookie with not one, but two forms of marshmallows.  It is a sweet dessert, for sure, but also salty and chewy and thereby addictive to any human with taste buds and a childhood rooted in the mid-twentieth century or beyond.

I mean, what kind of person is not, at least slightly, intrigued by such a cookie?  (No one I want to know.)  Or so I thought. 

Through some research I learned Lucky Charms are more or less glorified Cherrios (another Gelsomin sanctioned childhood breakfast) with added marshmallows.  These confections are officially known as marbits and were originally based on circus peanuts.  Circus peanuts!  Which I hate.

So there you have it, another story about getting older. More or less a collection of the truths we sell, stories mixed with the circus peanuts of youth and the Lucky Charms of adulthood. It is probably best not to take your marbits too seriously.  As Anne Lamott once wrote “the truth is we are all terminal on this bus.”

So I guess the new truth is that thirty-three plus is not a scary prospect at all, if you stay curious and adaptive. In fact, given some recent evidence, it’s magically delicious.

Toasted Lucky Charms Marshmallow Chocolate Chip Cookies
Inspired by Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

Ingredients:

for the toasted Lucky Charms crunch

100 grams (¼ cup plus 3 tbsp) butter
125 grams (3¾ cups) separated Lucky Charms oat cereal (without marshmallows)
30 grams (¼ cup plus 2 tbsp) dry milk powder (see notes)
20 grams (1½ tbsp) sugar
3 grams (¾ tsp) kosher salt

for the cookie batter

225 grams (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
250 grams (1¼ cups) sugar
150 grams (2/3 packed cup) light brown sugar
1 egg
2 grams (½ tsp) vanilla extract
240 grams (1½ to 2 cups) all-purpose flour (see notes)
2 grams (½ tsp) baking powder
1½ grams (¼ tsp) baking soda
5 grams (1¼ tsp) salt
230 grams (all the recipe, or about 3 cups) toasted Lucky Charms crunch (see instructions)
100 grams (1 cup of ¼-inch pieces) dark chocolate (see notes)
30 grams (about ¾ cup) mini marshmallows
45 grams (about 1½ cups) separated Lucky Charms marshmallows (marbits)

Instructions:

To make the toasted Lucky Charms crunch

Set the oven to 275 degrees.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter on medium to medium-low heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until it starts to caramelize and smell nutty (about 5 to 7 minutes).

Meanwhile in a medium bowl, place the separated Lucky Charms oat cereal and crush it with the end of a rolling pin until it is one-quarter of the original size (it is okay if pieces vary slightly in size). Add the milk powder, sugar, and salt and mix to combine. Pour in the butter and toss to coat (the mixture will get moist but not enough to clump together).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spread the cereal mixture on the paper.  Bake for 30 or 40 minutes or until fragrant and slightly toasted in color. Let cool. (This can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.)

To make the cookies

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the softened butter, sugar, and brown sugar; cream together with a paddle attachment on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes.  With a spatula, scrape down the sides and then add the egg and vanilla and beat for about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the sifted dry goods and mix until the dough just comes together.  Remove the bowl from the stand and, with a spatula, add in the Lucky Charms crunch, chocolate, and both types of marshmallows; mixing until just incorporated.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and portion out heaping ¼ cup size scoops (about 50 to 60 grams each). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate (ideally overnight but for a minimum of one hour).

When you are ready to bake, set the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and arrange the scoops of cookie dough four inches apart. (Two sheet pans can be prepared and baked at a time.)  Bake for about 18 minutes or until the cookies brown along the edges and the centers are no longer pale and doughy.

Cool the cookies on the sheet pans.  (They will harden as they cool, forming crisp edges and soft middles.)  Transfer to a plate or container.  Repeat until all the cookie dough has been baked off.

Makes about 20 cookies

Notes:
-I like Meyenberg goat milk powder.

-For the flour, I went with the gram measurement (the book said 240 grams was 1½ cups but using my measuring cup it was closer to 2 cups).


-I used Wild Ophelia 70% dark chocolate laced with BBQ potato chips, because why not?

-Oh the picture?  We are celebrating a birthday of thirty-four, in the Boston Harbor.


6.28.2016

Eat More Green Stuff

I recently had a conference call during which I learned a certain grocery store chain plans to offer a program to rate the contents of your shopping basket, much like your mother might if she combed through your crumpled receipts. 

I suspect many of us have an internal dialogue about what we eat that we turn up or down like a transistor radio. But perhaps some people hope to go home and review a computer printout of their food purchases like it is a naughty or nice list from the North Pole.

A program like this brings up many questions.  It so happens—for me—I only go to this particular grocer for two very specific things: turkey subs and hot dogs. At my most recent trip, I was also lured into buying some canned beer from their liquor store warehouse. 

So it is pretty clear my report card would not be one to post on the fridge.  

At a recent dinner at the Rosebud, I debated this idea with a good friend of mine over negronis and fried vegetables. It was the kind of conversation you can have with someone you have known for nearly two decades. She pointed out a way to scam the system by paying cash for your undesirables.  I had not even thought of this, but it was a fast reminder as to why we are still friends.

It is ultimately sad that we need a computer to help decide if what we are buying is “good.” But I get it.  Marketing is powerful, and confusing, and many people find food labels to be like hieroglyphics.

Plus we are very busy and easily distracted by cookies.

But the food choices we make are also very complex.  I shop at four different spots to get what I need—and reasons for this vary from nutrition and sustainability to emotion and taste.

All are valid. And hard to judge in isolation, whether you are a machine or a human.

Take the ingredients to make this ice cream.  Fresh mint and matcha tea might make Dr. Weil happy.  But flavonols in the tea may be blunted by the addition of dairy.  Not to mention the matcha food miles. Plus the mint is not actually even eaten.

The dark chocolate is 70% cocoa, but is that enough? (Probably not.)  But it was produced locally and this allows me to implicate an unsuspecting factory in Somerville, Massachusetts in the post-rationalization of my cravings. 

And swapping brown rice syrup in place of the corn variety seems better, but is it once you consider the arsenic risk? 

All this aside, no one eats ice cream for its health benefits.  The ingredients, however, do make a very satisfying iced dessert.  It is smooth, bright, and grassy, with slight bursts of bitter chocolate. I originally added the matcha for shallow reasons (namely to impart a light green hue).  But it also contributes a vegetal note that plays very well with the mint and dark chocolate.  A computer is not going to know this. At least not yet.

So here is a little secret.  A way to simplify things.  Eight out of ten of us do not eat enough fruit and vegetables. This is not a metric that makes people very healthy.  It turns out broccoli does not have a sexy marketing campaign, either. (Though it should.)

But if you aim to eat more plants maybe, just maybe, you might have a little bargaining room for ice cream every now and again too.

Matcha Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Ingredients:

2 cups whole milk, divided
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch
1½ ounces (3 tbsp) cream cheese, softened
1¼ cups heavy cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp brown rice syrup
pinch of salt
3 ounces fresh mint (including the stems) or about 3 cups lightly packed mint leaves (stems removed)
½ tsp matcha green tea powder
¼ tsp orange blossom water
2 ounces dark chocolate (preferably 70%), cut into small shards

Instructions:

In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp of the whole milk with the cornstarch.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth. 

In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining milk, heavy cream, sugar, brown rice syrup, and salt on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture boils.  When it reaches a slow rolling boil, continue to stir for 4 minutes more.

Meanwhile, roughly tear the mint leaves into small pieces.  Prepare a large bowl with ice and a little water and put a smaller bowl inside the larger bowl; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the matcha tea into the orange blossom water until a slurry forms; set aside.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually add in the cornstarch mixture; return the pan back to medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until it thickens (this will take a few minutes). 

Remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly whisk some of the hot liquid into the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the cream cheese mixture to the pan with the remaining liquid; add the torn mint and green matcha slurry and whisk to combine.

Pour the liquid into the prepared bowl on ice.  Let cool for about 30 minutes and then refrigerate, letting the mint steep for about 5 hours.  Strain out the mint and then return the milk mixture to the fridge (I prefer to let it chill overnight, but you can churn it once it is cold.)

When ready, churn the mixture in an ice cream machine for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it gets thick and creamy and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  At the very end of the churning, add in the chocolate shards while the machine is still running.  Pack the ice cream in an airtight container.  Cover with parchment paper cut to fit the container and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Makes about 1 quart

Notes:

-I luck out having Taza chocolate so close.  Luckily, you can also order it online.


5.31.2016

Colonel Tso’s Cauliflower Slips the Mooring

I went to Nantucket last weekend and the thing that always catches me off guard—besides the unwritten island uniform of Nantucket Reds and navy blue blazers—is how good the food is.

Holding a group of vacationers captive, fully surrounded by water, might encourage some slack at dinnertime. But most restaurant prospects are far from grim.

Raw oysters come cold and briny, as though they were shucked straight from the Atlantic.  Lobster rolls arrive generously proportioned. Fried clams appear plump and juicy, without the bits tasting of iron and shoe leather that occasionally haunt the mollusk.

The problem with these well-intentioned establishments is that I sometimes leave hungry. One evening my four-ounce short rib arrived with a silhouette of sticky rice that I can only assume was modeled after a golf ball. The next night, I preempted a pasta dish with two appetizers, and still needed to request an order of bread.  There were also multiple meals during which my plate was proactively cleared after coming back from the bathroom.

I was often quite hungry and paid a good deal of money to feel slightly less so.

Admittedly, my perspective might be skewed. When Brett and I went to Babu Ji in New York City, we paid the equivalent of one market price Nantucket lobster roll plus a beer to be happily destroyed by a tasting menu of pan-Asian cuisine.

And while you could argue it is easy to offer fancy proteins like shellfish and short rib and please people, it is a much harder sell to cast a cruciferous vegetable in positive light.  This is where Colonel Tso comes in.

Inspired by General Tso’s chicken, the dish offers a plateful of nostalgia while smartly swapping in cauliflower for suspicious and ubiquitous poultry.  Why Babu Ji trades a general for a colonel I am not certain.  It does not deserve the slight in rank.

Sure the dish will please vegetarians, but I believe it will please anyone who likes the occasional fried thing or who bristles at the thought of leaving a restaurant without a slight postprandial paunch.  Colonel Tso’s cauliflower was one of the courses we were served at Babu Ji and the recipe holds true to memory.

The vegetable is crispy and addictive, even before you add the sweet and spicy sauce.  I would argue you could leave off the mahogany coating altogether if you have post-traumatic associations with late night Chinese takeout, but my recommendation is to toss at least half the mixture in sauce, taste the difference, and then decide for yourself.  It is hard to go wrong when it comes to a big bowl of fried bits, made even better by the rebuttal of cauliflower as an undesirable.

Perhaps I do not like to be bridled.  I might be a little too coarse—or too hungry—for Nantucket.  I also really do not like salmon-colored pants on men.  And though I appreciate a flamingo-themed rosé brunch with a view of mooring buoys, it is not enough to distract me when my half-eaten plate of fries is prematurely swiped.

At any rate, when flamingos start hanging from the rafters (see below) it is time to flock home.  And, with any luck, that home will have something fried waiting.

Colonel Tso’s Cauliflower
Adapted from Food52 and inspired by Babu Ji

Ingredients:

for the sauce

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions, white and light green parts only, minced (green parts reserved)
1 tbsp peeled and minced ginger
4 to 5 small dried chiles, minced
½ cup hoisin sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch

for the cauliflower

1½ to 2 quarts peanut or safflower oil (see note)
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
3 tbsp black (or white) sesame seeds, plus additional for garnish
1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
½ cup cold water (plus more, as needed)
½ cup vodka
1 to 2 large cauliflower heads, cut into one-inch florets (see note)
Green scallion (from above) cut thinly on the bias, for garnish

Instructions:

To make the sauce

In a medium saucepan, add the sesame oil, garlic, (white and light green) scallion, ginger, and chiles; sauté on medium heat for about 3 minutes, until the mixture starts to soften slightly.  Add in the hoisin, vinegar, tamari, and brown sugar.  Stir and let it come to a slow boil.

Meanwhile in a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and a ½ cup (4 ounces) of water until fully incorporated, then add an additional cup (8 ounces) of water.  Pour the cornstarch mixture into the slowly bubbling sauce, turn the heat down to low, and whisk often until it slightly thickens.

Place the sauce on low heat on a back burner and keep an eye on it during the rest of the prep—turning down the heat even lower, if necessary, to prevent it from overly reducing. (After it thickens slightly, it should be kept barely simmering.)

To fry the cauliflower

Pour the oil in a Dutch oven or sturdy cast-iron pot (or deep fryer or wok) and set on medium high heat.  A deep fat frying thermometer is recommended here, as you will want to maintain the oil at 350 degrees (at a lower temperature the cauliflower will absorb more oil and may get greasy; at a higher temperature it may brown too quickly without properly cooking).

Set the oven to 200 degrees to keep the cauliflower warm after it is fried.

While the oil is heating, in a large bowl, combine the cornstarch, flour, baking powder, garlic powder, ground ginger, sesame seeds, and red pepper and whisk until fully mixed.

Add the cold water and vodka and whisk until a smooth batter forms (it should be the consistency of thin paint and should fall off the whisk in thin ribbons that disappear as they hit the batter—add additional water by the tablespoon, if needed).

Add half the cauliflower (or one head) to the batter and toss to coat.  When the oil is ready, working with a couple pieces at a time, lift the cauliflower from the batter, allowing the excess batter to drip off and gently place into the hot oil.  Repeat until the pot is full, but not overly crowded.  (Watch the temperature, if it starts to drop too quickly, stop putting cauliflower in.) 

Use a metal spider or slotted spoon to gently rotate the cauliflower pieces as they cook to ensure even browning.  They can be removed with the spider or spoon when they are golden brown and uniformly crispy (about 6 minutes). 

Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet or plate. Then transfer to another baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm.

Frying the cauliflower will take a few batches.  (Allow the heat to come back to 350 degrees in between frying.) Continue to add cauliflower to your batter until the batter is used up.

Once all the cauliflower has been battered and fried, pour the low simmering sauce over the pieces, tossing to coat evenly.  (See note below.) Garnish with sliced green scallion and additional black sesame seeds.

Yields enough for four to six

Notes:
-The recipe called for two quarts of oil.  You should be able to fry more cauliflower per batch if you are using more oil. I usually try to reduce the oil when deep-frying, to limit the waste, and got away with using just under a quart and a half.

-You may want to sauce half the cauliflower at one time.  The original recipe called for one head of cauliflower, but we found there was easily enough batter for two.  We left some of the second batch of cauliflower unsauced (any leftovers will lose their crispiness but will still be tasty).