My new love: semifreddo

 

Blueberry Semifreddo: a creamy treat just in time for summer

Blueberry Semifreddo: a cool, creamy treat just in time for the dog days of summer

A Facebook friend has been joking that she’s auditioning candidates for the role of her summer boyfriend. Well, I’ve found mine. He’s smooth, cool, and Italian. His name is Semifreddo. He’s a soft-serve style of ice cream that doesn’t require an ice cream maker, which in my opinion makes him an ideal low-maintenance lover.

Semifreddo requires nothing more than gently cooking some eggs and sugar on the stovetop, combining them with whipped cream and flavorings, and freezing the stuff in a metal tin. The result: A cool, creamy, rich dessert.

These days, I’m all about paring down kitchen tools. I gave away a lot of pans and gadgetry when I moved from Alabama back to Southern California. Not that my mate would believe me, given the amount of kitchen crap squirreled away in drawers and cupboards all over our crib. But, really, you can have too much of a good thing. I just jettisoned the curved torne knife (used to whittle annoying football-shaped vegetable tornes) from my knife kit, since a regular paring knife does the job just as well. Or, at least, not any worse.

Next up, I’m eyeing the ice cream maker attachment I purchased for the KitchenAid stand mixer last year. It works just fine, but I’ve used the thing exactly once. Ever. I’m not even sure I could find the bowl since I’ve moved. And in any case, there’s not really room for it to roost in the freezer, where it needs to chill for at least 12 hours before using it. That would involve moving the vodka, and why would we want to do that?

So on Sunday I was developing recipes for a story and ventured into the world of semifreddo, which requires nothing more than gently cooking some eggs and sugar on the stovetop, combining them with whipped cream and flavorings, and freezing the stuff in a metal tin. The result: A dessert that’s cool, creamy, and rich–just what you want on a summer evening. I’ll post my recipe for Blueberry Semifreddo when it goes live, but in the meantime, you can try Donna Hay’s tasty Raspberry Semifreddo.

What we’re drinking now

 

Heady and yummy, Pascual Toso malbec is a delicioso find for 15 bucks a bottle.

Heady and yummy, Pascual Toso malbec is a delicioso find for 15 bucks a bottle.

Yesterday was one of those Mondays when we needed a treat at the end of the day. “Surprise me,” said the text from my mate. That’s a tall order, so I stopped by our favorite bipolar wine merchant in Marina del Rey. We affectionately refer to him as Angry Man. As in, “I’m going to buy some wine from Angry Man.” 

Now, let me put in my 2 cents about wine merchants. I’ve noticed they tend to be a cranky bunch. I think it’s because they open a wineshop with the hopes and dreams and excitement about sharing their love all things grape with the public only to have people turn up demanding, “What do you have that’s under 10 bucks and good?” The merchant is left thinking, “I didn’t open my dream shop to compete with effin’ Trader Joe’s.” So their good stuff gets pushed to the back of the store while they end up promoting the cheap stuff at the front. It’s like opening a cheese shop where people only want to buy Velveeta.

But I also know that people who love wine can appreciate good sippers across the price spectrum. (My friend, wine and spirits writer Jeffery Lindenmuth, is particularly good at sniffing out great, food-friendly value wines–check out his roundup of box wines.)

I’ve also found that nothing makes a cranky wine merchant’s face light up like the words, “I’d like to buy a case today.” That was the case a few months ago, when I went in to purchase a case of French Cahors malbec (the so-called “legendary black wine of France,” which my mate had discovered at Angry Man’s shop). Angry Man only had about 6 bottles on hand, so I asked him to recommend something in a similar vein (and price). He was practically giddy as he offered up a bottle of Pascual Toso Malbec from Argentina. “This is a fantastic wine for the price,” he said of the $15 bottle. Sold!

When we sampled the wine, we were immediately seduced by its rich, plummy, berry qualities. It became our new favorite wine. And yesterday a bottle of it paired beautifully with the leftover filet mignon with Bordelaise sauce I brought home from school. 

Thank you, Angry Man.

Cookie monster

 

Pass up the refrigerated cookie dough and make your own.

Pass up the refrigerated cookie dough and make your own.

Uh, oh, Nestle has initiated a voluntary recall (at the FDA’s prompting, but, still) of their Toll House refrigerated cookie dough, which may be tainted with E. coli. More than 60 people have gotten sick from the stuff since March, and about two dozen have been hospitalized. No one has died from eating the dough or baked cookies.

If ever cookie lovers needed motivation to make their own goodies from scratch, this is it. Try our easy Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookies. The best part: you can tailor them to suit your taste.

C’mon, baby, it ain’t hard. And we won’t tell if you sneak a taste of the raw dough. (Not recommended, ’cause of the raw eggs in it, but some of us like to live on the food-safety edge anyway.)

Tasty links

Seems to be all about nutrition this week:

Picture 4Sodium patrol: Making salt saltier (so you eat less)–Little Stomaks

 

 

 

Picture 3Would-be urban gardener: I have the rooftop, but not the garden. Maybe this will inspire my not-so-green thumb.–The New York Times

 

 

Are Americans will to pay the cost of good nutrition? Eh, maybe, according to a new survey–NutraIngedients-USA.com

Some people won’t lose weight, even if you pay them. Or, at least, money ain’t a great weight-loss motivator.–Cornell University

Picture 9Beware the box: Lia Huber, founder of the Nourish Network, has a terrific weekly “Nibble to Noodle” newsletter in which she offers tidbits about nutrition, food, and good eats. Visit Lia’s site to sign up for her e-newsletter (with recipes!). This week, she tackles overblown nutrition claims found on packaged food claims:

I walked up and down the supermarket aisles last week with a keen eye towards what packages were promising and I found that, for the most part, the bolder a product proclaimed its virtues the less likely it was to be good for me. 
 
Take Reduced Fat Ritz Crackers, for instance. The green stripe at the bottom of the box draws my eye towards a sunny icon proclaiming the snack to be a “sensible solution.” They have half the fat of original Ritz, no cholesterol and little saturated fat; more than enough to convince a busy shopper to lob that box into their cart and feel good about it. But let’s take a closer look at those claims, shall we?
  • No Cholesterol and Low in Saturated Fat – These phrases typically appeal to those looking out for their cardiovascular health (and bravo to you for doing so!). Where it gets misleading is that dietary cholesterol has turned out to have much less effect on our bodies than previously thought; it’s the types of fat we consume, and their respective impact on LDL and HDL cholesterol, that matter. Saturated fat raises harmful LDL, but it also raises helpful HDL so the net effect isn’t too terribly awful. Trans fat–identified either by gram in the nutritional panel or by the term partially hydrogenated in the ingredients list–is by far the worst type of fat because it both raises LDL and lowers HDL. So let’s flip the box over and see what’s there. The nutritional panel lists trans fat at 0 grams, but because a product can contain up to .5 grams of trans fat and still list the amount at 0, I like to double-check the ingredients list for partially-hydrogenated oils. And there, right in the middle of the list, is partially-hydrogenated cottonseed oil. So much for those benefits.  

  • Half the Fat – True, at 2 grams per serving these Ritzes contain half the fat of normal Ritzes which weigh in at 4 grams. But what does that really tell us? If we’re concerned about the fat itself, we already know that these are made with a less-than-ideal type. And if we’re equating fat grams with whether or not the crackers will make us fat, we’re looking in the wrong place. Calories (or more specifically, an excess of calories) cause weight gain, not total fat grams. These Reduced Fat Ritz have 70 calories per serving–not bad, until you consider that a serving is only 5 crackers. Up that to a more realistic 10 and you’re looking at 140 calories, roughly seven percent of an average daily “calorie budget” of 2,000.

So here you have a snack with virtually no value for your body that gobbles up close to a tenth of your allotted calories for the day and includes a downright dangerous type of fat. This is a sensible solution? For whom . . . us or Nabisco?

Safe food is good food

 

Poultry tops the list of foods that cause foodbourne illnesses, but smart handling will ensure it's safe. (Photo by Robert Pikul/Dreamstime.)

Poultry tops the list of foods that cause foodbourne illnesses, but smart handling will ensure it's safe. (Photo by Robert Pikul/Dreamstime.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last week, noting that poultry (including eggs) tops the list of foods linked to foodborne disease outbreaks. Poultry accounted for 21 percent of single-food outbreaks, followed by leafy greens and fruits/nuts, in 2006, the year covered by the CDC’s report.

These days, I’m in the Meat Identification & Fabrication class at culinary school, which means food safety is much on my mind. Last week was spent breaking down whole chickens and ducks, as well as scrubbing scales off, gutting, and filleting whole fish. With that comes, frequent sanitation and carefully avoid cross-contamination. 

That’s because, like it or not, raw meat, poultry, and seafood harbors all manner of bacteria you want to keep out of your food. Common sense and diligence go a long way toward ensuring food is safe, and the same basic principles apply, whether you’re cutting up a chicken for restaurant service or or prepping ingredients to grill dinner in the back yard:

Clean

Make sure your hands, tools, and surfaces stay clean. Wash all three after handling any raw meat or seafood. Hot, soapy water will do the trick.

Separate

Cross-contamination is the big issue. Never use the same utensils and cutting boards for handling raw and cooked food (unless you wash utensils and cutting boards thoroughly after using them for raw ingredients). Also, be to use a bowl, tray, or plate to transport raw meat or seafood across the kitchen (or through the house the grill outside). Elizabeth Karmel, of Girls at the Grill, has a great tip for grillers: Invest in two pairs of long-handled tongs. Wrap red electrical tape around the handle of one, and green around the handle of the other. The red pair is for handling raw ingredients only, while the green pair is for cooked. Also take an extra plate or tray out to the grill for cooked food.

Cook  properly

Undercooked food can harbor harmful bacteria. Use a digital instant-read thermometer to ensure meat and poultry is cooked to the proper internal temperature. According to the USDA, poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 F; roasts, steaks, and fish, 145 F; and ground beef and pork, 160 F. Remember that food continues to cook when removed for heat–called “carry-over” cooking–so pull meat from the grill or oven a few degrees early, and it will come up the proper temperature while it stands before slicing.

Chill

Get food into the refrigerator or freezer promptly after bringing it home from the store. Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator, never on the counter. And chill leftovers quickly (divide large amounts into smaller portions so they cool faster).

For more info, bookmark Fight Bac!, the site created by the Partnership for Food Safety Education. It’s a great quick reference for food-safety practices.

If you own a stand mixer, you want this attachment

 

Beat Blade scrapes the bowl of a stand mixer, so you don't have to.

Beater Blade scrapes the bowl of a stand mixer, so you don't have to.

I wrapped up the Intro to Baking Class at culinary school last week. As you might imagine, one of the most-used pieces of equipment was a stand mixer. The school has both super-sturdy Hobart mixers and fairly sturdy KitchenAid Professional bowl-lift models. I usually grabbed a Kitchen Aid because they’re lighter for me to carry across the lab and similar to the KitchenAid Artisan model I’ve used at home for years.

Professional culinary equipment often is superior to home versions, since it’s intended for high-volume use. But this was one case where I longed for something sitting in a drawer at home. (Actually, the second case, since I still prefer the Mac chef’s knife I use at home over the Messermeister version in the school-issued tool kit.) The school’s mixers use the manufacturer-issued metal paddle attachment. These do the job, but you often have to stop the mixer so you can scrape the bowl to ensure all the ingredients are combined. 

Professional culinary equipment often is superior to home versions, since it’s intended for high-volume use. But this was one case where I longed for something sitting in a drawer at home.

“Man, they need a Beater Blade,” I told my lab partner. The Beater Blade is an aftermarket paddle attachment with rubber “bumpers” that scrape the bowl during mixing. I discovered the Beater Blade about a year ago, and it works well with heavy cookie doughs and delicate batters. I have no idea how well a Beater Blade would stand up to the frequent use of a professional kitchen, but they are a must-have for home bakers who own stand mixers.

Beater Blades cost about $25, and they’re available for KitchenAid’s tilt-head and bowl-lift models, as well as Cuisinart, Viking, and Delonghi stand mixers.

The cat ate my homework

 

Moe stands guard, waiting for fresh baked goods.

Moe stands guard, waiting for fresh baked goods.

 When you’re in culinary school, you can say, “The dog ate my homework.” There’s a good chance she has. I brought home some honey wheat rolls the other day and made the mistake of leaving them on the kitchen counter while my mate and I scooted out to run a quick errand. Rascal has been pretty good about not counter-surfing for food lately, but apparently the temptation was too much. When we drove up to the house, there was Rascal in the window, a honey wheat roll in her mouth and tail waggin’. She’d gobbled, like, seven rolls in the space of 10 minutes.

But the cat?

Our cat Moe is a tiny little white kitty, weighing all of about 7 pounds. At 15 (we think), he’s pretty elderly. He’s always had a thing for baked goods. In his younger days, more than once, he swiped a loaf of bread, dragged it off, and clawed open the packaging, and nibbled away. 

Brioche a tete, before baking, and before Moe.

Brioche a tete, before baking, and before Moe.

Apparently, age and frailty haven’t made a dent in his passion for breads, cakes, and muffins. The same day Rascal decimated the wheat rolls, Moe joined the fun. A few days later, I brought home a gorgeous brioche a tete, which I left tightly wrapped in plastic on the kitchen counter. It had disappeared the following morning, and I assumed my brother, who was visiting and really likes brioche had eaten it. Nope. Moe had stolen into the kitchen in the dark of night, snagged the thing (which was about as big as he is), and dragged it to another room and ate it. In a rare case of inter-species cooperation, Rascal polished the remains off in the morning.