Monday, September 14, 2009

Carmel Disaster Averted, or Guest Blog #1

While I work on a secret project, a guest blogger has been brought in for this week's post. That's right, a ringer. What are you going to do about it? Ladies and gentlemen, my best friend and sometimes house guest, Stefanie.

Despite a lifelong friendship and eerily similar life experiences, my friendship with Heather looks more like two sides of a split personality than a typical sisterly bond. It's like a weird Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation but with more swear words. Heather enjoys building a stable committed life with clearly delineated short and long term goals. She is most in her element when she is cooking for people she loves and wearing vintage aprons. I, reflexively, am an eccentric book nerd, unpredictable and very much allergic to all things domestic and committed. I have been to a grocery store twice in the last year--once for work and once to look for the Michelle Obama edition of Vogue. So, while I genuinely adore that Heather cooks me food all the time, my involvement in the process of rendering the food edible is usually limited. Up until my most recent visit to her apartment in New York, the most complicated thing I did was eat the skin off some poultry at Christmas (duck or goose or some such water foul, whatever it was I remember toasting it a lot) and make sure we always finished the wine. My job was very simple and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you I was pretty fucking fabulous at it.

I planned on coming up to visit Heather for Labor Day weekend solely with the idea of reading and flipping through fashion magazines all weekend, and came prepared with a suitcase full of books and some essential travel items. My first night there Heather went into the kitchen to start this "Salted Carmel Ice Cream" concept, which she hadn't really sold me on yet and I laid down on the couch to read the selected poetry of D. H. Lawrence. In between poems I would poke my head in the kitchen to see if anything was yummy enough to start eating and provide my services as taste tester. Heather was actively engaged in the home made caramel process which involved a really big pan, medium heat and an absurd quantity of sugar. The sugar was melted, but seemed to be separated into one watery brown liquid with a molten deep brown lava center that kind of moved like old rubbery snot when you touched it. Heather kept poking at it with furrowed brow and stated "There isn't a picture with the recipe but I feel strongly that it shouldn't look like this." I agreed. We futzed with the goop for a while, trying to unstick it from the spoon she was using to stir "it." The recipe suggested shaking the pan in a swooping circular motion, but that was clearly not the answer (I think we only angered it) and stirring this substance seemed to some how defy my previous understanding of physics.

Eventually we made the executive decision to turn the heat up and hope to melt this situation into compliance, which under normal circumstances is why you don't want me anywhere near your stove. The maybe five times I have seriously cooked in my life, I turned the stove on high and burnt everything. With smoke. And fire. And the occasional explosion.

The sugar melted into a triumphant caramel and I began work on the custard which I assured Heather I wouldn't ruin because I had "seen Giada and Ina Garten do it like a million times." I think really she was just more focused on the caramel but for whatever reason I took over custard duty. Even though I knew better, I didn't really whisk while I poured the simmered milk into the egg, I was slightly more focused on talking. Heather eventually stepped in and took over the whisk operation, but it was too late. There was about four tablespoons of scrambled eggs left over in the sieve after straining. Despite a major loss in our ingredient amounts, we remained confident.

I gracefully bowed out of the cooking process and Heather moved onto a chicken while the custard chilled. While she hacked the neck off the chicken I yelled "Viva la revolution, off with their heads," painting my toenails bright iridescent fuchsia. I felt very much like a modern day Marie Antoinette, but with poultry. Heather seasoned the chicken and put it in the oven using her nifty new roasting pan that--from what she tells me--is totally awesome. If the the final product was any indicator to the pan's value, then you should all go get one, because the chicken was pretty awesome. (Ed. Note: It was the Caphalon with rack and baster, a wedding present from my lovely Aunt Donna)

Will was slightly self-deprecating about his mashed potatoes, which he claimed were lumpy. However, I thought they were fantastic, which is amazing because I think all things potato, including chips and fries, are gross. Maybe it was the lump that I needed all this time?

The ice cream turned out to be a really rich carmel soft serve. Less ice cream, more chilled syrup. I made the suggestion to Heather that it be served with lady fingers, turns out those are hard to find at 9 pm. Will obligingly went to the store for Nilla Wafers, and that turned out to be a fantastic save, because it's insanely good with cookies. So from what Heather tells me, she is now eating the Salted Caramel Ice cream as a dip with cookies and it's an arrangement she and Will are on board with.

Salted Carmel Ice Cream

Gourmet magazine, August 2009

1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs

Heat 1 cup sugar in a dry 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.

Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.
Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add half of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard coats back of spoon and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel.

Chill custard, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 to 6 hours. Freeze custard in ice cream maker (it will still be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.

Ed note: The next day Stef and I picnicked on Governor's Island, so I leave you with a lovely picture of Stef in front of the Statue of Liberty!

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