Monday, January 27, 2014

Jasmine Orange Ice Cream

Jasmine Orange Ice Cream
I have made at least 6 different ice creams, but this is the first time I have blogged about one. That's because this one is really, really, really good.

A perfect example of what I wrote about previously, this recipe was created because a bunch of beautiful local oranges fell into my lap, so to speak. We were at our good friends' house this past weekend, and they had this amazing orange tree, loaded with oranges. And they asked me what the heck they should do with all those oranges ...

So I googled how to use oranges, because, well, I'd had a glass or two of wine, and we were watching football, and I wasn't feeling particularly creative at that moment. I found this, and this, and then I found this recipe for jasmine orange cupcakes. Jasmine and orange is a brilliant combination, and not only because the smell of jasmine reminds me a lot of the scent of orange blossoms. 
Orange blossoms and jasmine blossom. Images available at:
While researching these ingredients, I learned that jasmines are in the same family as olive trees, Oleaceae. That was an "of course!" moment for me since we use both in many culinary applications. I also must admit a sentimental attachment to jasmine (I wore jasmine flowers in my hair on our wedding day). So, if you don't love this as much as I do, I will totally understand.

I let that jasmine-orange idea sit in my head overnight. And then I thought . . . ice cream! Aside from emotional chemistry, there is quiet a bit of actual chemistry involved in this (and all) ice cream making. Frankly, ice cream is a rather fantastic structure of air, ice, fat, and sugar.

Ice cream under the microscope
 (From Clarke, 2012, “The Science of Ice Cream” Physics Education 38 (3))
The scientific concept of freezing-point depression is what governs much of texture of the ice cream. Freezing-point depression is when the freezing point of a liquid (here, the milk and cream) is lowered by the presence of other molecules (the sugar). The sugar molecules get in the way of liquid freezing. If you have too little sugar, the ice cream will end up too hard and icy. Too much, and the result is slushy. Just the right amount helps you achieve soft, scoop-able ice cream.

There is a fun article on the science of ice cream at Ice Cream Nation if you'd like to read more. And if you'd rather just eat ice cream instead . . .

Monday, January 20, 2014

Appreciating What We Have.

Grapefruit Tart with Earl Grey Cream
Appreciating what we have. It is both a kitchen, and life, philosophy. My inspiration for recipes is whatever fresh produce I have in hand. It could be that a neighbor dropped off a big box of persimmons, or that our CSA that week included purslane, or I might see some beautiful broccoli Romanesco at the market. That's where I like to start, with whatever may be at my fingertips (or at least close by).

It is a similar ethos to locavorism and seasonalism. But for me, it goes deeper than that -- for me it is also a metaphor for life. Noticing and appreciating what is right in front of me. Letting what is present on any given day inspire me, and allow me to connect more fully with myself and my family and friends.

This week the inspiration was grapefruit. It's a lovely, bright, and sunny inspiration. My folks dropped off a big bag of grapefruit from their friend's farm. I had a lot of ideas -- grapefruit avocado salad, grapefruit pound cake, winter citrus salad ... and then this . . . Grapefruit Tart with Earl Grey Cream.

Now, it may look like I, as a 49ers fan, making a red-and-gold tart today is some kind of a message.  It isn't! Football, like cooking, can be sweet and savory, or sour or bitter.  The sign of good cooking isn't in the flavor -- if it were, we'd eat nothing but milkshakes. It's the response to, and understanding of, our environment, of where and when we live, that makes the craft into an art, and makes us enjoy what we find right in front of us ...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ode to Coconut and, a Bit of Kitchen Chemistry

Toasted Coconut Pancakes . . . I know I had you at toasted. We love pancakes in our house, and I find it easy to make pancakes that are delicious and also pack in a lot of nutrition.

Toasted Coconut Pancakes
For these pancakes I use shredded coconut, coconut sugar, coconut milk and coconut oil. You know what they always say,  "Go coconut, or go home!"

Holding all that coconut together are whole grain flours, a touch of almond extract (I find it enhances the coconut flavor), and buttermilk. The buttermilk is important. It plays a vital role in making a fluffy pancake with a tender crumb. Why? Because of its acid content.

Quick breads, things like pancakes and muffins, owe their rise to a bit of simple chemistry. It is the same reaction that produces those science fair "volcanoes". The reaction of Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and acid. Combine baking soda, and vinegar (or lemon juice, or buttermilk), and you get Carbon dioxide and water. The Carbon dioxide gas gets trapped as bubbles in the batter resulting in light airy pancakes.

There is not much point in adding baking soda to a batter that doesn't have any acid in it. It won't have anything to react with. If you're batter doesn't call for an acidic ingredient, baking powder will be your leavening agent. Baking powder is baking soda with the acid already added, usually in the form of potassium bitartrate, also known as "cream of tartar". In fact, if you run out of baking powder, you can substitute baking soda with the addition of vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar.

Image source:
Ok, back to the toasted coconut. Do you know how good coconut smells when it is toasting? Crazy good! I seriously adore it. To start making these pancakes, set your broiler to low. Spread shredded coconut in a thin, even layer on a baking sheet. Set it on the middle rack of the oven. Then just stand there.

I know, it's hard to just stand there and not start doing other things.  Trust me it's worth it. Think of it as a few minutes of meditation; be fully present in the moment, with your coconut. You will be rewarded for your efforts by a greater sense of calm, and the amazing smell of perfectly toasted coconut. You want it just the softest shade of brown. It should look a lot like the latte you are drinking.

Now that you are in coconut heaven, let the coconut cool while you mix the rest of the ingredients for your pancakes. Then enjoy (with your latte of course)!