A Harmony of Flavors

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Making No Sugar Peach Ice Cream

Last weekend I made an extremely rich version of Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream for my sister-in-law's birthday. It was absolutely, hands down, the very best, creamiest ice cream I ever tasted. I was in heaven.

Unfortunately, with diabetes as a factor in my life, though easily controlled by diet, this ice cream seemed to send me way over the top in blood sugar levels. Drat. I finally find something that truly fits all my criteria for an ice cream and I should avoid it. Back to the drawing board.

I have had my DAK Gelatissimo Ice Cream Machine for a lot of years now, and have only used it for a small handful of recipes. It came with a little booklet of Drew's ice cream recipes. I used his cheesecake Ice cream recipe as a base idea when creating the Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream last week. But when Drew wrote this booklet of ice cream recipes, he also included a sugar free version for nearly all the recipes, right next to the originals. I had barely used the regular recipes; certainly never used the sugar free versions. I find that ice cream is kind of an addiction for me, as are many things. If I start eating it, I have a hard time stopping. It is best if there is no ice cream in the house, and thus no temptation. One thing though: if an ice cream is too filled with ice crystals, I just don't like it, and am not tempted to eat it. So, why buy it in the first place? I like the creamy mouth feel, and my Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream fit that bill in spades. It was also extremely high in fats. Alas.

No-Sugar Peach Ice Cream: note the ice crystal texture
I decided to try out a recipe for a sugar free version, really cutting down on fat and also using Sweet Leaf Stevia packets instead of sugar. I already knew that this would leave me with an ice crystal ice cream, but having never even tried this before, I wanted to test it first before looking for a fix for the problem. I scaled down the fat from the original version of the recipe, using 2% milk instead of heavy cream and only 2 ounces of cream cheese instead of the whole 8 ounce block. I used fresh pureed peaches rather than peaches cooked with sugar down to a preserves texture. And the Stevia packets instead of sugar. I still made a quick "custard" out of the 2% milk and 2 egg yolks. And while it churned, I tasted it and it was really good. Not like the high fat and sugar version, but really good. I had hope.

No-Sugar Peach Ice Cream

Makes 1 quart

2 peaches, about 9-ounces each
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/4 cup 2% milk
2 large egg yolks
8 packets of Sweet Leaf Stevia (or sweetener of choice)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces cream cheese (1/4 cup)

Heat the milk to near scalding point, where there are a few tiny bobbles at the edge of the pan. Whisk the yolks in a bowl. Slowly pour the hot milk into the yolks, whisking briskly at the same time, until the milk is incorporated. Pour the mixture back into the pan. Set the pan on medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 170 to 175 degrees. An instant Read thermometer such as the Thermapen is very helpful. Remove from heat immediately and set the pan in ice water, stirring the custard often, to chill. Refrigerate the custard. Once cold, stir in the packets of stevia or other sweetener along with the vanilla extract.

Peel 1 1/2 of the peaches and puree them with the lemon juice. You should have about 1 1/2 cups of puree. I had peaches weighing 8, 9 and 10 ounces, so the average is about 9 ounces apiece for this amount. Reserve the last half peach to cut up and add at the end of churning. With the peach puree in the blender, add the cream cheese until smooth. Pour in the milk custard mixture and blend thoroughly. 

Chill the mixture for quickest churning. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn for the time specified for your machine. Mine takes 30 minutes. Towards the end of the churning, add in the remaining peach half, peeled and cut in small cubes.

The Results?

Well, when the ice cream was just done, it was pretty good. Not the heavenly creamy mouthfeel of the first ice cream (Note the texture of the original high fat recipe in the photo at left, below. Nary an ice crystal to be seen.), but I didn't expect that. The flavor was good, though not as concentrated. Again, an expected result. The use of stevia was not terribly noticeable. It was plenty sweet enough. I put it into containers in the freezer. Next day I got one container out to try. It was hard as a rock and full of ice crystals. Drat.
Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream left            |              No-Sugar Peach Ice Cream right

I let it set on the counter for over a half hour (see photo on right, above), and while some of the edges were softened a bit, the main bulk was still terribly hard. Trying to scoop it out, I could see and feel the ice crystal texture.

Enter Guar Gum

I am relatively new to guar gum. I know that it, along with others like xanthan gum and locust bean gum, are used in many foods to thicken and give texture and body where they are lacking. I have guar and xanthan gums because I have done a fair bit of gluten-free baking. I have only tried one cold application of xantham gum in a salad dressing and was extremely unhappy with the flavor. Guar gum I have used only twice so far, in baking. Just this morning I read a bit about its use in ice creams. Guar, locust or xanthan gums are very often used in ice creams to keep sugar crystals from forming. AHA! 

I will not go into the whole analysis of these gums in this blog. After reading, I feel that it is something I would like to test. Apparently, the use of a whole block of cream cheese in  my Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream may have been a major factor contributing to that mouthfeel I so loved, because cream cheese is stabilized with guar gum! Since I used only a fourth of the amount of cream cheese in the No Sugar ice cream, the effect would be minimal. Sugar is also a contributor to the kind of texture I wanted, but to avoid sugar and very high fat content, I needed another way. Enter Guar Gum.

My results of the first attempt at a no-sugar ice cream were only marginally acceptable. The flavor was quite good. The texture was not. I will be going for round three of my ice cream testing very soon, using a smidgen of guar gum. The websites I visited indicated that only a very tiny amount (about 1/4 teaspoon or less per quart of mixture) of guar gum is needed per recipe. It is also important to either disperse it lightly over the ice cream while churning, or add it into the sugar before mixing into the rest of the ingredients. Either I will mix it into the stevia powder or into the machine while churning. My next results will likely be in the next week or so. Stay tuned!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Savory Braised Roast with my CMR Spice

In my post of July 11, I wrote about making cookies using a spice mixture I made, called CMR Spice Blend. My idea was that this spice blend, containing both "sweet" spices and some more commonly thought of as "savory," could easily be used in both types of applications. My original idea when mixing these spices was as a sweet application despite the unusual combination of flavors. Once tasted in the cookies I made, I realized that although it tasted great in cookies, it could also taste great in a savory meal. But what kind of savory application?

CMR Spiced Rump Roast with Gravy
A couple of mornings ago I got out a completely frozen rump roast, with absolutely no ideas on what to do with it for dinner. I used my defrost setting on the microwave, setting it only for a 1 pound piece of meat, while this roast was easily 3 1/2 or 4 pounds. I do this because I just want to get the thaw process started, without ever getting to a point of cooking the edges. To me there is nothing worse than that microwaved cooked flavor on the edges of meat. So, with the roast still extremely solid, I got out my heavy enameled cast iron pot, still with no real idea on what to do for flavoring. I could have just as easily used my crock pot, but this time I thought I would use the oven as it was a nice cool day.

I cut up an onion into thin slices and tossed them in the pot, along with a carrot cut into a couple of pieces and some celery. I set the meat on top of these vegetables to keep liquid circulating below. Flavorings, hmmm... And I saw my CMR Spice Blend there in the cabinet and thought this would be the day to try it in a savory meal. I added in 2 tablespoons of the spice blend. I also had a small amount of red Port wine left on the counter, possibly a half cup, so following the idea of sweet and savory together, I poured that in. Along with a few other ingredients, I had my roast all ready to cook. I set the covered pot in the oven at 300 degrees to start. This method is technically called braising. The roast sets high out of the liquids, and the lid ensures a nice steamy method of cooking.

After 2 1/2 hours I went to check on the roast because while the house smelled wonderful, I certainly didn't want the roast to burn. It still had plenty of liquid, but I added in a cup of water anyway, thinking that gravy would be nice later. I lowered the oven to 275 degrees, as the pot was bubbling well when I opened the lid, and I wanted it to cook more slowly. Two more hours and the roast was done really nicely. Rump roasts seem to be inherently tougher. There is little real fat marbling in the meat. Still, when you get a side of beef, there will be rump roasts. This recipe would work with any piece of meat that needs a long, slow cooking time.

CMR Spiced Rump Roast

serves 6 to 8
CMR Spiced Rump Roast with gravy over mashed potatoes

1 - 2 onions
2 - 3 cloves garlic
1 carrot, cut into 2 pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 2 pieces each
1 (about 4-pound) rump roast
a few sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons CMR Spice Blend I 
1 1/2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet (to make the gravy a deep color)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup red Port wine or other liquid of choice
1 cup water or other liquid of choice, if needed

To thicken gravy:

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Set oven to 300 degrees. Place the sliced onions, garlic, carrot and celery into a 6 or 7 quart, heavy-duty pot with lid (such as enameled cast iron). Set the roast on top. 

If your roast is not frozen, it will take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours in total to cook. If it is frozen, count about 4 1/2 hours cook time, so prepare accordingly.

Set the thyme sprigs alongside the roast. Sprinkle on the CMR Spice Blend and salt. Add the Kitchen Bouquet. Kitchen Bouquet makes a nice rich gravy color, but is optional. Pour in the Port wine or other liquid, cover the pot and set in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Check for liquid. If the roast was not frozen to start, it may be completely cooked through at this time. If the roast was frozen, reduce the oven to 275 degrees and add liquid if needed. Cover and place in oven for another 2 to 2 1/2 house, until cooked through and tender.  

Remove roast to a plate. Discard the thyme sprigs, carrot and celery. If you want a smooth gravy, strain the liquid to remove any vegetables. If bits of onion in the gravy are acceptable, leave the liquid as is. Whisk together the water and flour to a smooth consistency. If it is not smooth, strain this mixture into the pot, whisking briskly to combine. Set the pot over medium heat and stir until the liquid has thickened. Allow the gravy to continue to cook for a few minutes longer to cook out the starchy flavor.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. .

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Quick Simple Peach Galette or Rustic Peach Tart

What is a Galette?

Fresh Peach Galette
If you are unfamiliar with the term "galette" it is nothing more than a rustic, free form tart, made sweet or savory. Why use the term galette, when it is a rustic, free form pastry? Just a simpler term; one word instead of four. Plus, it sounds cool. How's that for a technical answer. I believer galette is a French term originally, for this type of rustic tart, though it also has other meanings there, as well as in Canada.

These rustic tarts or galettes have become very popular here in the US and are seen more and more as years pass. For one thing, they are so easy to make. Making a pie is intimidating to some, in a way that the galette is not. There is nothing fussy about making a galette. If you have a pie pastry made, and some fresh or frozen fruit, you have nearly all the ingredients necessary to make a galette. Making a savory galette can be equally easy, but can be spruced up amazingly.

My very first experience with a galette was in fact a savory variety. It came from a Food and Wine Magazine many years ago (March '94, if the many websites now displaying this recipe are to be believed). The recipe was for a Leek and Goat Cheese Galette and while not difficult at all, had many steps. It stated that a yeast dough could be used or a pie pastry. I feel that a yeast dough would end up far too doughy, and have only ever used the pie pastry. I have a fantastic recipe for Even Better Never Fail Pie Crust on my website. Why use anything else? I made the Leek and Goat Cheese Galette and to my delight, it came out looking exactly like the photo in the magazine. I have made this recipe over the years many times. It is perfect with a side salad for a meal. Even my husband, a very staunch Midwest Meat Eater, found this galette good enough for a meal a couple of times. Here is the recipe for the filling for this galette:

Leek and Goat Cheese Galette (filling)

Leek and Goat Cheese Galette
makes 4 or 6 servings

6 large leeks, white and light green parts only
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg, beaten
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup soft goat cheese such as Chevre or Montrachet

Cut off dark green tops of the leeks and discard. Cut off root ends and then slice down the length of each remaining leek section. Hold each section under running water, fanning the ends to rinse well to clear out any mud or grit. Slice the leeks across into about 1/4-inch slices. There should be about 6 cups total.

Melt the butter in a medium large skillet. Add in the leeks with the thyme and about 1/2 cup of water. Cook over medium-low heat until the leeks are tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Raise heat slightly and add the wine and continue cooking until wine is nearly evaporated, then add in the cream and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside to cool  for about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg aside. Mix the remaining egg and 2 tablespoons of the parsley into the leek mixture. Roll out a pie pastry to about 14 inches in diameter round and set it on a baking sheet. Spread the leek filling onto the center of the dough, leaving at least a 2-inch border all around. Crumble the goat cheese over top of the filling. Fold up the pastry edges, overlapping or pleating as necessary. Brush the outside of the pastry with the reserved egg. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden. Sprinkle with remaining parsley.

Back to the Peach Galette

My sister-in-law loves peaches, a fact I have mentioned a few times in these blogs. She generally prefers a peach dessert for her birthday treat rather than a cake, so this year I decided on a fresh Peach Galette for her birthday dessert. If I was making this for myself, I might prefer another fruit such as blackberries or raspberries, maybe blueberries or a combination. Any fruits can be used. Pineapple would be great, apples, plums. Some people place a layer of marzipan or almond paste into the bottom of the pastry before adding the fruit, partly for sweetness and partly to absorb liquids as the fruit bakes. A frangipane mixture such as I used in my Cherry Frangipane Tart or Frangipane Apple Tart.
Peach Galette with Peach Ice Cream

How much sugar to add to the fruit will depend a bit on how sweet the fruit is initially. Adding too much sugar will only add to the liquids pooling in the pastry while baking and will contribute to a soggy crust. The Peach Galette recipe I created used a very simple 2:2:2 mixture of 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Another tablespoon of sugar could be added. The lemon juice would not be necessary for a berry tart, as berries can be tart enough to stand on their own. The lemon juice also helps the peaches (or apples) to keep a nicer color, not turning brown. The flour could be substituted with cornstarch as the thickening agent if desired. Spices could be added to the peach mixture. I added only a grating of fresh nutmeg. A sprinkling of cinnamon could also be added. 

Peach Galette

serves 6 or 8

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds fresh peaches (4 or 5)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 - 3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pie pastry for a 10-inch pie
1 egg yolk

Peel peaches and slice thinly. Place them in a bowl with the next 4 ingredients and toss to combine. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Roll out the pie pastry on a floured surface to about 14 or 15 inches in diameter. Do not worry if the edges are uneven; this is a "rustic" tart. Set the pastry onto the parchment. Pour the peach mixture into the center of the pastry, spreading to within 2 or 2 /12 inches of the edge. Flip up the edges of the pastry all around, folding or pleating as necessary. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water. Brush this mixture onto all exposed areas of the pastry. Sprinkle the tart with a coarse crystal sugar such as demerara or turbinado, or with a fancy "sanding sugar." Bake the tart for 35 to 45 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Making Stuffed Hamburgers for a Birthday Meal

Last summer I made stuffed hamburgers a few times. My sister-in-law, Sherri, most particularly loved them. So much in fact, that she requested them for her birthday dinner this past Sunday. I couldn't even recall what I used to stuff the burgers last year, but she reminded me: caramelized onions, Gorgonzola cheese, mushrooms. I don't think I ever used all three at the same time, but we decided these should be a little more hearty, and I christened them Stuffed Hamburger "Steaks". 
Onion, Gorgonzola and Mushroom Stuffed Burger Steaks

The one thing I simply do not have down is the part where the burgers do not get over cooked. I must admit, most particularly when there is only a thin layer of meat encasing already cooked fillings, it has been difficult for me to gauge when the meat is done and the insides are warm. I over did these also, though neither Sherri nor my husband had any trouble eating them. At least I didn't blacken them. While most people find a little char on their grilled foods enticing, my husband finds it intolerable. 

Another thing I find confusing is how to fill the burger meat and keep the whole thing together on the grill - without really compacting the meat. I watch Mario Batali and Michael Symon on The Chew stressing how burger meat should not be overworked or compacted. For me, if it isn't well compacted, they just want to crumble. Oh well. Again, it could be just a matter of "to each, his own." I still find my burgers tasty in the extreme, so for me, this works.

Do Ahead

It is really best to make the caramelized onions and the sauteed mushrooms the day before. They are time consuming at the best of times and require attention. Two medium-large onions sauteed down to just about 1/2 cup once deep golden brown. An entire pound of mushrooms sauteed down to a little over a cup. The onions are best cooked over very low heat, stirring occasionally at first; more and more often as they begin to color. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to accomplish this task. The mushrooms took about 20 minutes to cook down. If you have never cooked mushrooms, expect them to release a LOT of liquid, quickly. I prefer to saute mushrooms over a medium heat, or even higher because this helps evaporate all the excess liquid more quickly. Once the liquid is gone, they will brown well. I used a combination of 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 - 2 tablespoons of olive oil for each application.

1 pound sliced mushrooms in pan  |  after about 5 minutes lots of liquid  |  now golden  |  compare cooked amount!

How to Make Stuffed Burgers

For starters, I divide up the meat for each burger, then take out about 1/4 to 1/3 of the meat and set it aside to make the "lid." The larger portion I pat out and create high ridges to hold the filling(s). I create what sort of looks like a tart shell, patting, shaping, pressing into the corners to make a high rim. If using things like caramelized onions or sauteed mushrooms, these need to be made in advance. The onions can take nearly an hour to make and the mushrooms at least 20 minutes. In this particular instance I used about 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) of the caramelized onions, then about 1/2+ ounces of the Gorgonzola crumbles and about 2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) of the sauteed mushrooms for each burger. This used up all of the 2 onions I had caramelized, nearly all of a 5 ounce tub of Gorgonzola Crumbles and at least 2/3 of the pound of sauteed mushrooms I had prepared. These burgers can be made smaller by using 4 ounce portions of meat. I was aiming for an entree, using no bun.

Once the fillings are in place in the well of the patty, I thinly pat out the "lid" portion of the burger. Carefully lifting it, it is set atop the fillings, and I begin to pinch closed the edges all around. Re-shaping a bit and pressing to keep the burgers relatively flat for even cooking, I set them onto a rimmed baking sheet that was sprayed with cooking spray for easy release. In an effort to keep the meat from coming apart later, I set the sheet, uncovered, into the fridge for a few hours to dry before grilling.
Divide meat and make well  |  layer with onion  |  add Gorgonzola  |  top with mushrooms  |  set meat lid over top and seal

Onion, Gorgonzola and Mushroom Stuffed Burger Steaks

makes six (6 ounces before stuffing) burgers

2 pounds hamburger meat
6 ounces bacon, minced finely.
2 medium/large onions, caramelized
1 pound Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
3 - 4 ounces Gorgonzola crumbles
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, combine the minced bacon with the burger meat. Divide the meat into 6 equal portions of 6 ounces each. Separate out about 1/3 of each portion to pat into the "lid" for the burger. It helps to use cooking spray or oil on the counter while forming the burgers, for easier lifting later. Using the 2/3 portion of the meat, pat out a round and press up the sides to make a good sized well. The patty should be about 5 1/2 inches in diameter. Begin layering in the fillings: onion, cheese and mushrooms. Set the lid portion atop and pinch the edges all around to seal. Pat into a flat burger with smooth edges. They will be about 1 inch high.

Gently lift and set the burgers onto a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray or brushed with oil. Refrigerate the burgers for at least an hour; more if time permits. Before grilling, sprinkle the burgers with salt and pepper. Grill to desired doneness.

The thing to (try to) remember is that the meat is very thin on each side of the fillings. The fillings do not need to be cooked; only reheated. Once the cheese is oozing out, the meat is officially overcooked. I believe the smarter thing would be to use an instant read thermometer and make sure the inside is not much more than 110 degrees. That is my next goal!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Best Peach Ice Cream Ever

For me at least, this title is absolutely the truth. The. Best. Ever.

If you like peaches even marginally, you would still love this ice cream. I love peaches, though I often avoid buying them because unless you live in the Peach Belt and get them fresh from the tree, in too many instances they end up being mealy, or just plain hard. Fresh Georgia peaches are the best ever, particularly eaten fresh with the juices running down your face and arms. If you've never had peaches that fresh, I am truly sorry.

Freshly churned Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream with Peach Galette

What brings me to peach things in general is my sister-in-law's birthday. Sherri's favorite fruit, bar none, is peaches. Last year for her birthday she requested a Peach Crisp. It was good, but for me it really didn't beat my Apple Crisp. Sherri loved it though, and that was the important thing. 

This year, I was way ahead of her. I had already planned the desserts, two things I wanted to try: Peach Galette and Peach Ice Cream. Sherri was very happy indeed. There was a recipe I had used in past for a cheesecake ice cream, and my idea was to incorporate cream cheese into this recipe for peach ice cream. One reason is that, for me, a really creamy mouth feel is one of the most important things about an ice cream. For this reason I have so loved Frost's Gelato when visiting my sister in Tucson. The gelato is so very creamy in the mouth, making it a most sensual experience. So many ice creams just lack that feeling. Sorbet or sherbet obviously do not have that creaminess, but that is expected. When a carton says "ice cream" I expect a certain level of "creaminess". 
Fresh Churned, still in container

My husband, ever the gadget person, bought an ice cream maker many years ago when we had just gotten together. I must admit, it is not used nearly often enough. Because it is a large, contained, refrigerated device and takes up a lot of real estate on my counter, it is generally kept somewhere not very convenient. I had it in the basement here, and used it last summer - once. Running downstairs (17 steps, here) to turn the machine on 5 minutes before using it, so it chills, back upstairs for those 5 minutes to do other things, back downstairs to pour in the ice cream mixture, back upstairs for 30 minutes, back downstairs to get it from the machine, back upstairs (102 stairs by now)... That's a lot of really good exercise, granted. However, when I have been on my feet preparing a big meal (which is usually when i decide to make ice cream!) the last thing I want is more exercise. So, I brought the machine into my kitchen. I actually do have a spot here in this house where it works. Yesterday, I made the peach ice cream and it was the - most - amazing ever. 

I started by reading a whole lot of peach ice cream recipes. They vary from pureeing together milk, peaches, sugar and vanilla and churning, to a far longer process where the peaches are cooked skin on and passed through a fine sieve. That was already one too many steps for me. I did not take the quickest route, because I was really hunting for whatever would make the creamiest mouth feel. I chose to cook down the peaches for a more concentrated flavor, but i peeled them so I would not need to mess with a fine sieve. I pondered for quite some time how or when to incorporate the cream cheese into the mixture. I also wanted to use a "custard" mixture of cream and egg yolks, again to further that creamy mouth feel. Unfortunately, my ice cream machine will only accommodate 2 to 3 cups of mixture at a time and I ended up with 5 cups once it was done. I used only 3 cups of the mix for the ice cream last night. It was such a thick mixture even before churning that it could have been eaten as a pudding. The machine churned it with no problems and the result was so smooth, thick and creamy my husband deemed it a hybrid - frozen pudding. I don't care - it was just that good. This morning I made a second batch of the custard part of the recipe and once cold, combined it with the remaining peach mixture and churned. It turned out equally creamy, but with slightly less peach flavor. *

If you want to save on calories, you could use any milk down to 1%. Coconut milk, while not low calorie, would also work well in this ice cream. I believe this recipe could be taken down to a smaller output by using 1 1/2 pounds peaches, 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice to cook the peaches. Next, use 2 - 3 tablespoons sugar to 2/3 cup milk or cream and 3 egg yolks for the custard and 4 ounces cream cheese. This is the amount I will try next time. I want to experiment with 2% milk in place of the cream, considering how very thick and creamy it came out. 

A TIP on the cooked peaches:  

After the initial 10 minutes of boiling the peaches, you have a lovely peach compote. This would be great served over vanilla ice cream or over a slice of pound cake with some whipped cream on the side. After the further 30 minutes of simmering, you now have a lovely batch peach preserves, using a whole lot less sugar than would usually be called for to make preserves. It was delicious both ways and I will be doing this again!

after adding more custard mixture, 2nd batch *

Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream

makes 5 cups ice cream mixture

2 pounds fresh peaches
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Peel the peaches and chop them coarsely. Place them into a 4 - 6 quart saucepan with the 1/2 cup sugar and the lemon juice. Bring to a full boil (where you cannot stir it down) and set a timer for 10 minutes. Keep it on high, stirring vigorously. This helps evaporate a lot of moisture, quickly. Drop the heat to low or medium-low, to just maintain a simmer. Set the timer for 30 minutes and stir only occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. 

Peaches in pan  |  after cooking 5 minutes  |  after 10 minutes high boil  |  after 30 minutes simmer  |  = 2 cups in blender
Put the egg yolks into a bowl, whisk slightly and set aside. Place the cream and the 1/4 cup of sugar into a smaller saucepan and heat through, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once hot, pour the cream mixture slowly into the egg yolks, whisking vigorously while pouring so as not to scramble the eggs. Once the hot mixture is incorporated into the yolks, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set back on low or medium low heat. Stir constantly until the mixture reaches 170 to 175 on an instant read thermometer or a candy thermometer. At this point it should just barely coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add in the extracts. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Set the pan into the ice water and stir occasionally until it reaches room temperature.
completely blended ingredients   |    in bowl to refrigerate  |  just churned  |  served with Peach Galette  |  second batch

Place the cooled peach preserves into a blender container with the cream cheese. Blend until completely smooth. Add in the cooled milk mixture until completely combined. Pour this mixture into a bowl with a lid and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to make the ice cream, use whatever ice cream maker you have and churn according to manufacturer's directions.  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Using Stevia in Half the Sugar Chocolate Chip Spice Cookies

My stevia plant
When shopping last week, I finally decided to buy some of the "Stevia in the Raw" that works 1:1, cup-for-cup of sugar in a recipe. I have been wanting to try this product, but am always leery of the added fillers. I prefer stevia to any other sugar substitute and have used the liquid version and the flavored liquid versions in my morning oatmeal for years. I use Sweet Leaf brand packets in substitute for the sugar called for when making some other foods such as Basic Cole Slaw where it is indistinguishable from sugar or even in my Red Cabbage with Bacon and Apples. In these last two recipes I usually use 2 or 3 packets in a recipe. I  like the fact that stevia is a natural plant rather than a construct from some laboratory. When living in Florida, I had a stevia plant (right) and I dried leaves for my own use (below). 
My Own Dried Stevia Leaf

The large package of Stevia in the Raw states that the filler is maltodextrin. Turns out that maltodextrin is not necessarily that good for you, and sometimes also adds a lot more sweetness factor. It also translates into something nearly worse than sugar - but there are many sites out there that talk about all this. Any time there is a 1:1 ratio of usage with a sugar substitute, there has to be a filler product, so it just boils down to what you choose to accept. I will use the package of Stevia in the Raw because I bought it. I don't think I will purchase it again.

My real preference, as I mentioned, is using the liquids with flavors. I own quite a few flavors, though the ones shown in this photo above are my favorites. I just love using English Toffee stevia in my oatmeal as it approximates a brown sugar flavor that I miss. If I use fresh berries in my oatmeal I use the Mixed Berry flavored stevia. I could go on and on. 
Stevia Extract & flavors: English Toffee, French Vanilla, Mixed Berries, Chocolate Raspberry & Cinnamon

Meanwhile, since I bought the large bag of Stevia in the Raw, I wanted to try the recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies. The package suggests using half the sugar called for and substituting the stevia for the other half, as sugar has an effect on the moisture content in a recipe. I used the brown sugar called for and used the Stevia in the Raw for the white sugar called for. I didn't have another bag of the Andes "Creme de Menthe" baking chips, though I did have bags of dark chocolate chips on hand. 

"Half the Sugar" Chocolate Chip Spice Cookies
While assembling the ingredients for these cookies, I once again noticed on my counter a spice mixture I created some time back, but had yet to put to any use. At first I thought, "Why mess with flavors even more?" Because of my desire to taste this spice mixture in something - anything - I gave it a go in this recipe, sparingly. Two teaspoons of the mixture went into the dry ingredients. Ultimately, it gave a little extra flavor which did not detract from the enjoyment of the cookies, but did make you stand and wonder, "What IS that flavor?" The spice blend is of some very unusual spices when placed all together that would be equally at home in a sweet application, as with these cookies, or in a savory application. I will put some thought to a savory use for it sometime soon. Meanwhile:

CMR Spice Blend I

CMR Spice Blend I
makes about 3/4 cup

3 tablespoons fennel seeds
10 whole cloves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 whole star anise
2 teaspoons mace blades (or 1/2 teaspoon ground mace)
1 tablespoon unhulled white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon good quality black tea leaves
1 tablespoon ground ginger

Use whole seeds whenever possible. Mace blades may be harder to find. Place all the whole spices except the tea into a dry skillet and heat, stirring constantly, until very fragrant. The sesame seeds will be lightly colored. Turn the hot spices onto a plate to cool. Once cooled, place them with the tea leaves into a spice grinder or coffee mill used only for spices. Grind to a fine powder, then add them to a bowl with the pre-ground spices. Mix well and store in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid in a cool, dark place.

As you can see, the mixture uses some of the sweeter spices such as fennel, star anise, cloves and ginger, while bringing in the unusual element of black pepper, sesame and tea, among others. It is an unusual mixture, but can bring some really stellar results. The addition of this spice is not necessary to make the Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, nor is the use of the Stevia in the Raw. The one big difference in the outcome of these cookies using the Stevia in the Raw was that instead of the cookies flattening out after baking and becoming chewy, they stayed domes and - while not crunchy - they do have a soft crispness to them. The flavor is great.

"Half the Sugar" Chocolate Chip Spice Cookies

makes about 50 to 60 cookies, depending on size
"Half the Sugar" Chocolate Chip Spice Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons CMR Spice Blend I, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
3/4 cup Stevia in the RAW (or use granulated sugar)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 bag Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (350 on Convection Bake). In a bowl, sift or whisk together the first 4 ingredients and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the Stevia in the Raw and brown sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and beat well, then the vanilla. If using an electric mixer, lower the speed while adding the dry ingredients just until combined. Add in the  chocolate chips and nuts until incorporated.

Drop the dough onto ungreased cookie sheets using rounded teaspoons or use a 1 tablespoon capacity cookie scoop, setting the cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden. Allow them to set for about 30 seconds on the cookie sheet before removing to a rack to cool. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Quick and Easy Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberries are out at a pretty decent price right now. I found out in the last couple of years that I love blackberries. As I mentioned in a recent post, I mainly grew up on a property that had such abundance of fruit; berries, cherries and other, as well as the vegetable garden my Dad planted each year. We did have a few blackberries way in the back of the yard, but with the huge and much sweeter red raspberry bushes, the blackberries sort of got left to their own fate. They always seemed sour. I never realized how sweet they can get.

I love to make apple crisp. Until recently I had not deviated to any other fruit in a "crisp." Not too long ago I had 2 cans of pie filling: one was blackberry and one was raspberry. I bought them with the intent of making pies for our friend Heidi, but she ended up not coming for that particular trip, so the cans were left in the pantry. I opened both cans and poured them into a pan and topped it with the same "crisp" topping I use for my Best Apple Crisp, Ever and baked it. It was really heavenly. Cobblers, on the other hand, with all that biscuit dough on top have never thrilled me. Just too much dough to fruit ratio. 

A serving of Blackberry Cobbler

Some long years ago I made a blackberry cobbler of a different sort. Rolling the biscuit dough out thinly and placing the fruit onto this large piece of dough, I rolled it like for a jelly roll or cinnamon rolls. It was sliced into spirals and laid into a baking pan with melted butter in the bottom and topped with a simple syrup. After baking, the biscuit dough completely absorbs all the syrup and the fruit is nicely spaced throughout. I liked this variation a lot and have made a few cobblers over the years, but always with berries. Blackberries alone or blackberries with raspberries; both excellent. My husband objects to the seeds in these kind of berries. It doesn't stop him from eating the cobbler though! I posted this recipe for Blackberry Cobbler on my website some time ago, but I did a couple of things slightly differently this time, so I am re-posting the recipe here. I have to imagine this same technique would work with other fruits, particularly soft fruits like maybe blueberries, peaches, plums or apricots.

Blackberry Cobbler
Finished Blackberry Cobbler in pan

makes one 9 x 13-inch pan

10 tablespoons + 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
1½ cups water
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk, more if needed
3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, cut in half if very large
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, heat the 1½ cups sugar with 1½ cups water until sugar is melted; set aside. Melt the 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter and pour it into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish; set aside. Place flour in a mixing bowl with the baking powder, soda and salt; cut in the 10 tablespoons of butter until fine crumbs form. Add milk, stirring with a fork until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. If more liquid is needed to bring together all the crumbs, add more one tablespoon at a time. Turn out onto a floured board; knead 3 - 4 times to just bring together. 

Berries rolled in the dough    |    roll sliced and set atop butter in baking dish    |    syrup poured into pan to bake
Roll dough to a large rectangle, about ¼-inch thick. Spread berries over the dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired. Roll up, jelly-roll style, from the longer edge. Cut the long roll into 6 very thick slices. Carefully lay slices in baking dish over the butter. Pour the sugar syrup around slices (it will be absorbed when baking). If desired, sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

If you note how hugely tall the slices were before putting them in the pan, understand that again, guests were here in the kitchen with me and I was hurrying. I wasn't totally sure just how this would come out after baking. What happened was that the tall slices puddled down and filled out the space in the pan. It was perfect. If you go to my website and look at the older recipe, you will see it was slightly smaller in the amounts for ingredients. I like this newer recipe much better. Also, on the website the cobbler shown there had the log of dough cut into 12 slices and set closely in the pan. Either way turns out great. I will say that this time the biscuit dough turned out gently crisp and flaky in the upper parts that were exposed, while being just moist and sweet underneath. This was an all around, really good recipe.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.