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.

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.)

Time for scones

A little leftover homemade ricotta inspires a scone-making project.

A little leftover homemade ricotta inspires a scone-making project.

It’s not often–never, really– that I have extra homemade ricotta cheese on hand. But I did this week, thanks to having prepared a batch of the tasty curds for a recipe developing gig. Much of it was going down my mate’s gullet, one spoonful at a time. Not a bad fate–I was happy he liked it so much–but I thought it could find new life in another recipe.

I also had a lovely little Meyer lemon in the fridge, plus a jar of chi-chi Nielsen-Massey bourbon vanilla sugar that I picked up at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco last week. Add a yen for scones, and I was ready to bake.

ricotta-scones1Meyer Lemon Ricotta Scones

If you substitute store-bought ricotta, be sure to use the whole milk variety. If you don’t have vanilla sugar to sprinkle on top of the scones, just use turbinado or even regular sugar.

6.75 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon grated Meyer lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup chilled butter, grated or cut into small pieces

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk. Cut in the ricotta and butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand, using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingers. Gently stir in the buttermilk. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead gently for 2 minutes (the dough is crumbly but holds together).

3. Place the dough on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Pat the dough into a 3/4-inch-thick circle. Cut  the dough into 8 wedges (don’t separate the wedges). Use a pastry brush to brush the surface of the dough with egg; sprinkle with vanilla sugar. Bake at 400 degrees F for 17 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool in a wire rack. Yield: 8 servings.

Cookies are tops for holiday baking

 

All across the land, folks are hard at work baking holiday treats.

All across the land, folks are hard at work baking holiday treats.

All across the country, little elves are hard at work churning out batch after batch of Christmas cookies. According to the research firm NPD Group, 60% of American households are whipping up cookies, cakes, pies and other goodies. For many of us, it’s the only baking we do all year long, says NPD VP Harry Balzer. “We keep to long-standing holiday traditions in December and many of those traditions include baking,” he says.

Cookies top the list of holiday baked goods. That makes sense, since they’re pretty much goof-proof, you can make several different kinds with little extra effort, and you can get a lot of gift-giving mileage out of a single batch. These attributes make them especially appealing to the occasional baker.

“We keep to long-standing holiday traditions in December and many of those traditions include baking.”

Sadly, I can’t participate in this year’s holiday bakefest–my kitchen is packed up in a moving pod and trundling across this great land of ours. So, I’ll have to enjoy the fun vicariously (or nibble on the fruits of others’ labor). Here’s what I would make if I could get to my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and cookie sheets:

Chocolate Mint BarsCooking Light. These triple-layer brownies may be light, but the result is decadent. I’d add a few extra drops of green food coloring to the peppermint layer so these scream “Christmas.”

15-Minute Chocolate Walnut FudgeCook’s Illustrated (membership required). The chef’s in CI’s test kitchen came up with a supereasy fudge recipe, which ran in the January 2007 issue. Last year, I went turned out many batches, playing with different types of nuts and flavorings. My favorite used pecans and bourbon.

Chocolate-Drizzled MandelbrotCooking Light. These Hanukkah cookies are great dunked in coffee.

Chocolate ShortbreadCooking Light. This recipe is easy enough for a child to make, and the addition of bit of canola oil lightens the saturated fat load without compromising the short texture.

Swedish Rye Cookies–101 Cookbooks. I love the flavor of rye, and I’m intrigued by this recipe, which would be flavorful but not too sweet.

Ali-Gyver Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. I make these babies year-round, but this time of year, I’d be sure to use dried cherries or dried cranberries, and I’d replace up to 1/2 cup of the flour with almond meal.

Lean times

 

a treat for a cash-strapped era

Mexican Chocolate Brownies: a treat for a cash-strapped era

As if I needed more evidence of how times have changed, consider how I marked

Birmingham's Chef Frank Stitt is a god.

Birmingham's Chef Frank Stitt is a god.

a good friend’s birthday. Last year, I treated her to a lavish Champagne dinner created by Chef Frank Stitt of Bottega (and Highlands Bar & Grill and Chez Fon Fon)  fame in Birmingham, Ala., using spectacular selections from Champagnes Bruno Paillard. Bubbly and beef cheeks speak to richer times, at least for me. This year, it’s a different story. Cash-strapped, I opted to spoil her with homemade Mexican Chocolate Brownies and a pint of premium (I’m not that poor) dulce de leche ice cream. Here’s the recipe for the brownies (shown above):

Mexican Chocolate Brownies

Mexican chocolate is sweet, cinnamony, and nutty. The chile powder adds a touch of smoky heat, but you can omit it.

1/4 cup 1% low-fat milk

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

6 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour (that’s about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (optional)

1 1/3 cups sugar 6 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

2 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.

2. Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, and add chocolate chips, stirring until they melt and the mixture is smooth.

3. Whisk together the flour through cinnamon in a large bowl. Add vanilla, almond extract, and eggs; beat with a mixer. Add flour mixture and chocolate mixture; beat just until combined. Spread batter (it’s thick) into prepared pan. Bake 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Yield: 16 brownies.

Improvising

Cookies from memory

Cooks love gadgets…even if we don’t really need them. In fact, we probably don’t really need most of them. Many kitchen items can do double, or even triple duty. And you can always improvise with ingredients.

Case in point: I’ve been staying with a friend for a couple of weeks, and his kitchen is, shall we say, minimally equipped. Cooking isn’t his thing, but it’s certainly mine, so I’ve had fun improvising with the available ingredients and equipment. He doesn’t have a hand mixer (and certainly no stand mixer), for instance, but he does have a blender, albeit a cheap, tiny model more suited to blending margaritas than to mixing cookie dough.

And cookies were what I was craving. I was going to make this work, dammit! Here’s the recipe for chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies–with my clever MacGyver-like moves to get ‘em done.

Ali-Gyver Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda**

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup quick-cooking oats

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or semisweet, white chocolate, peanut butter, etc.)

1/2 cup chopped almonds (or pecans or walnuts)

1/2 cup raisins (any kind of dried fruit works here. I’ve used dried figs, golden raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, even dried marionberries)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer*** until smooth. Combine flour through salt, stirring with a whisk. Stir in oatmeal. Stir in chips, nuts, and raisins. Drop dough by level teaspoonfuls onto 2 baking sheets covered with parchment paper (or sprayed with nonstick spray). Bake for 15 minutes; let cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield: 2 dozen.

(Adapted from the New York Marathon Cookbook.)

* MacGyver move #1: there was not granulated sugar in the house, but there were packets of Sugar in the Raw. That stuff is too chunky to use as is, so I whirled in the blender for a 30 seconds to achieve a fine, granulated-like texture.

**MacGyver move #2: couldn’t find baking soda, but there was a new container of baking powder. I used 1/2 teaspoon of that and the cookies tasted fine, but came out taller than usual (see photo above).

*** MacGyver move #3: As noted, there was not mixer in the house, and the blender was a tiny, flimsy model. I used the blender to cream the wet ingredients (step 1), then stirred them into the dry, ultimately using my hands to combine everything. It came together just fine.