National Chocolate Day: Chocolate Ice Cream

I realize I am a day late to the party.  I think my invitation got lost in the mail.  Honestly, I had no idea that yesterday was national chocolate day until I hopped on Instagram and saw all the deliciousness going on over there.

I tried to crash the party with a re-post, of this cake, but I was not pacified.  So, after my kiddos were in bed, I whipped up and then enjoyed some quick, decadent chocolate ice cream.IMG_1224

In the world of homemade ice cream, there are two types: French and Philadelphia. While the more traditional French style relies on eggs (either cooked or raw) for a creamy, custard base, Philadelphia-style ice cream has no eggs.  Eggy desserts and I have a rocky relationship.  It’s a texture issue on my part.

So, homemade ice cream at our house is always Philadelphia-style.  If you don’t own an ice cream maker, you should.  Ask Santa.  You won’t be disappointed.  Ice cream is one of those foodstuffs that is so easy, inexpensive and delicious to make at home.  I am partial to this two quart version, because then we can make enough for everyone in one batch, even if we have guests over.

I love the hint of orange in this recipe.  It comes from either the zest of an orange, or this lovely little oil that is pressed from the rinds of oranges. It works wonders for adding a little citrus flair when you don’t have the fruit on hand.  It packs a powerful punch, so a drop or two is plenty in this application!  Bonus uses: it easily removes that obnoxious sticky residue leftover by some labels and it’s a great degreaser. There are lemon and lime versions also.

As far as I’m concerned, any day is a good day for a few bites of this chocolate ice cream.  No need to wait for October 28th to roll back around!

Chocolate Ice Cream:

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon real vanilla
1 teaspoon orange zest or 2 drops Boyajian Orange Oil (optional)

Combine cream, cocoa, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat until just simmering. Remove from heat and stir in chopped chocolate until completely dissolved. Add milk, vanilla and orange zest or orange oil.

Cool completely. You can refrigerate the mixture for about four hours, or if you’d like to eat sooner, try this: plug your sink and add several inches of cold water and plenty of ice.  Set the saucepan with chocolate mixture in the water and stir occasionally, until the mixture is nice and cold.  Add more ice to the sink if needed.

Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. When finished, this treat will have a soft-serve texture.  To firm it up before serving, transfer it to an airtight container and freeze for an hour or so.  Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the freezer for a day or two, but the texture may begin to suffer after much longer.  I doubt there will be any left at that point to worry about, though. IMG_1223IMG_1231

A Picture Book for the Ages: Ox-Cart Man

Do you know this book?

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As you can see, my copy is showing some wear along the edges and the dust jacket has been torn, taped and re-torn in one corner.  No matter.  Inside, this story is delightful.  The text is rhythmic, following the cycle of one year on a farm, long ago during the Colonial Era.  It begins in October, when the man and his family load the ox-cart with all the surplus from their farm and he sets out on the ten day (10 days!) walk to Portsmouth Market.  As the story progresses, he slowly sells each item they grew or made and buys a few essentials for the family back home.

The narrative weaves beautifully through all four seasons of the year, summing up both the simplicity and the magnitude of life in this bygone era.  I have always felt a connection with the pioneers of this country.  Those who broke the ground, established the cities and rode across the plains to settle the untamed West.  To me, this book is their story, beautifully illustrated and simply recited.  Theirs was difficult, manual work that, I venture to guess, often felt repetitive.  But, it is in the rhythm of their months and years that I take so much comfort.  Everything they ate or used, each candle and every apple, was produced by the labor of their own hands year by year.  Very little came from other sources.

When the man returns from the market, he carries with him an entire years worth of purchases: an iron kettle with only 3 small items inside.  This is all they needed for an entire year!  I love the messages of simplicity, self-reliance and enjoying the bounties of the seasons.

I think we, as consumers in our digital, fast-everything world, can take a few important lessons away from a story like this:

  • The real meaning of a need
  • The importance of thinking about where our food comes from
  • The idea that food comes into and out of season
  • The fact that there is real, tangible, valuable work behind each and every THING that we bring, or allow, into our lives

I am not saying everyone needs to sell their house, quit their job and become a farmer.  That is absurd and unrealistic for most people, though there are days when I threaten it!  My point is only this: we are all consumers and producers.  It seems to me that there exists a balance between consumption and production that, if we allow our consumer-obsessed society to always guide our choices, is easy to disrupt nowadays without our basic needs of hunger, shelter and security to ground us.

We have choices about when, how and how much to consume and produce, but we don’t often need to produce anything to survive.  I love picking up a story that reminds me to think about my roles not only as a producer, but also as a consumer.  This is also one of the main reasons that I grow an edible garden–It keeps my family in touch with where our food comes from and the labor required to produce it.  I hope you have a chance to read Ox-Cart Man and enjoy it’s poetic journey through a typical long-ago year when our ancestors produced what they needed to survive in a beautiful symbiosis with the land and the seasons.

Beets Are Beautiful

Beets are one of the treasures of the garden!  They are dirty and rough on the outside, but inside they are gorgeous in color and taste. Like most root vegetables, beets are high in natural sugar, making them attractive to most kids.  I love them adorned simply with salt and butter.

The real challenge with beets is to get past the thick skin without cooking them to death. Roasting can take quite awhile and boiling them whole makes a huge mess, takes time and leaves your hands a nice dingy tint for several days if you don’t use gloves when you slip the skins off after cooking.

Enter the Messermeister peeler. 

I have been telling people for years that if I were stuck on a deserted island and could bring only one kitchen tool with me, this would be it.  Yes, I would choose this over my chef’s knife because it would peel the coconut and mango alike.  There is absolutely no peeler on the market as good as this one.  I own two so that one is always sure to be clean when I need it.  It easily peels yams, fresh tomatoes and peaches, beets, carrots, butternut squash and even potatoes.

It will peel ANYTHING (including your finger-don’t say I didn’t warn you).  The blade is actually serrated, which means it’s sharp as razors but also handles delicate produce without ripping or bruising the flesh.  There is also a non-serrated version, but it is not the same magician as it’s cousin and I therefore don’t even own one.

Back to the beets…using your serrated peeler, quickly peel the skins right off!  Check out the tiny little grooves created by the peeler in the photo below.  Then dice into uniform size pieces and steam for about 7 minutes.

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Add the tops of the beets (remove the stems) during the last minute or two of cooking time.  At my house I am the only one who eats the greens–they are delicious in their own right, but not nearly as sweet as the root.  Beets are done cooking when you can poke them with a fork and not meet much resistance.  Diced, they cook quite quickly.  Add salt, pepper and butter and serve steaming hot.  Yum!

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**If you enjoy beets as much as I do, don’t be alarmed if your outputs change color during the 24 hours after enjoying your meal.  Read here for more info on that non-dinner table topic.

Harrison Chocolate Torte

IMG_0914Try not to get whiplash as we careen from healthy middle eastern dishes with gorgeous veggies toward chocolate cake so delicious, it may in fact be illegal.  I cannot help my love for chocolate, it’s hereditary.  I am convinced that eventually geneticists will identify the gene on which the code for “chocolate addict” is written.  Until then, I am unscientifically stating that the love for chocolate runs in families.  Have you ever met someone who didn’t like chocolate?  I know a few people and I simultaneously pity and envy them.  I’m not much of a candy person, but I have a strange, primal attachment to chocolate.  I blame/thank my mother, her mother and all the women on that side of the family.

So, this cake honors my ancestors as well as my chocolate-loving friends, you know who you are.  I’ve been accused of putting illegal substances in it to make it more addicting, but I can give only this equation as explanation:

Chocolate+butter+cream+sugar+raspberries=delicious.

Harrison Chocolate Torte

Cake:
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I use half bittersweet, half semisweet)
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
5
 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Grease a 10-inch spring-form pan and dust with sugar. Stir chocolate and butter in saucepan (ideally heavy bottomed) over low heat, stirring constantly. Cool several minutes at room temperature. Add sugar, whisk until combined and then whisk in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla, salt and flour and whisk until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 25-35 minutes until barely puffed in center.  Tester will NOT come out clean. Cool completely and refrigerate while making ganache (optional) and mousse.

Optional Ganache

1 cup heavy cream
12 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
4 Tbsp. butter softened
1 Tbsp vanilla

Combine cream, chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring constantly until combined.  Stir in vanilla.  Pour over chilled cake and invert raspberries over ganache.  Chill until set.

If not using ganache, proceed to mousse layer.

Mousse:

2 Tbsp cocoa powder
5 Tbsp hot water
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate , chopped fine
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine cocoa powder and hot water in small bowl, stir until combined.  Melt chocolate in the microwave on medium or in a sacupan on low, stirring often, just until smooth. Remove from heat and cool several minutes.  Stir cocoa mixture into melted chocolate until fully combined.

Whip cream, granulated sugar, and salt in a stand mixer at medium speed until soft peaks form.

Using rubber spatula, fold chocolate mixture into whipped cream until no streaks remain.  Work quickly. Spoon mousse over cooled cake.  

If using ganache, top with whipped cream.

If NOT using ganache, top with a layer of raspberry jam and then whipped cream, or just top with whipped cream (I add a little powdered sugar and vanilla bean paste) and fresh raspberries.

When serving, run knife under hot water between each cut for cleaner slices.

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This is what the optional ganache layer looks like.  If you’re adding it, put it right on top of the original cake layer:

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Then the mousse:

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If you’re NOT using ganance, add the raspberry jam now, or just skip to the whipped cream.

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Top with whipped cream (cool whipped cream gadget here) and serve with fresh raspberries:

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Falafel

The last stop on our Israeli food tour is the beloved lunch staple, the falefel.  If you’ve never tried falafel before, you’re in for a treat.  You can often find these deep-fried chick pea balls at ethnic restaurants and food carts in larger cities.  Next time you’re out on the town, grab a pita full of falafel, top it with whatever array of pickles and vegetables they’re offering and a dollop of tzatziki sauce for the perfect lunch.

Falafel is made from uncooked chickpeas that have been ground with spices and a little baking powder.  Use canned chickpeas if you must, but the texture may be not be right and you may need to add more flour to get them to bind together properly when frying.  I am partial to my counter top fryer if only for the fact that I do not have to spend half an hour wiping grease out of every crevice of my stovetop and the surrounding area when I’m done cooking.

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Falafel
Adapted from The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan

1 cup dried chickpeas (or use canned, drained)
½ large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
4-6 Tbsp flour
Vegetable oil for frying

Pita bread

Optional Toppings:
pickled vegetables
sliced or chopped tomatoes
tzatziki sauce

1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least two inches. Let soak overnight, and then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained.

2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, garlic, and cumin.  Process until blended, but not pureed.

3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 Tbsp of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.

4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size using your hands, or a portion scoop (40 is a good size for this) or falafel scoop.

5. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 ° in a deep pot, wok, or fryer. Fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. When both oil and batter are ready, fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, any desired toppings and some tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki and Other Pita Fillings

With all that pocket bread on hand, the options for lunches, lunchboxes and quick dinners are almost endless.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to eat a pita:

  • Torn into triangles with hummus or tzatziki sauce.
  • Stuffed with grilled veggies and a few pickles.
  • brushed with butter and sprinkled with Parmesan, parsley and salt then baked into pita chips.
  • Filled with thinly sliced meat, cheese and traditional sandwich fillings.
  • Stuffed with falafel (say, what?  More to come on that in a later post.).

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For me, no pita sandwich is complete without some flavorful tzatziki dolloped on top!  If you’ve never had tzatziki, it’s a cool, creamy cucumber yogurt dip with Turkish origins.  It is well known in modern Greek cuisine.  Versions and variations can be found all over the Middle East, often with fresh-made yogurt from sheep or cow’s milk.  Some add a squeeze of lemon juice, which is a nice addition.

You’ll want to take care with the garlic here, as it can add some real zip if you’ve got spicy cloves.  Also, the flavor of the sauce depends heavily on a good tasting olive oil, so use one that really stands out.  Serve it as a lunch of it’s own with torn pita, or atop grilled veggies in a pita for a delicious dinner.  Even my daughter, who isn’t a fan of yogurt anywhere but a smoothie, eats it up every time.

Tzatziki

1 cup plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little more for drizzling at the end)
2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1 large cucumber, seeded and finely diced

Mix together all the ingredients and taste for seasoning.  Scoop into a serving dish and drizzle the top with more olive oil.  Serve with pita wedges or atop a pita sandwich filled with grilled veggies or falafel.