Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bacon Ice Cream. Yep.

One of the best things about cooking is the excitement of trying something new, creating something or just doing the unusual because you can. My friend posed a challenge to me a few months ago, after I got my ice cream maker: she'd seen it on Top Chef and when I asked what flavor she wanted, she enthusiastically proposed BACON. She was probably half kidding but I take challenges seriously and she promised she'd at least try it if I made it.

I mulled it over for a while, thought about ways to infuse the custard base with bacon flavor (heat the cream with bacon bits then strain them out?). I planned, plotted, and was just about to just throw stuff together and see what happened. Then I found a recipe on David Lebovitz's blog and that was that. He starts by "candying" the bacon. Pretty much the same as making a sweet bacon (say, maple bacon). I really like the idea of baking the stuff, though; I have
issues with frying bacon. I know, it seems easy but there's always SOMETHING that gives you problems. Bacon is one of my enemies...
Sizzle sizzle!
And the finished product. It was kind of difficult to cut but that's because it wasn't crisp (which I didn't want for the ice cream, to be honest). So it's sticky from the brown sugar and soft. Messy messy. But wait! There's more... The custard is a simple, brown sugar base (with vanilla and a splash of whisky) and it was really good by itself. But if I didn't add the bacon then it would just be brown sugar ice cream and that's not what this was about. NO.

So I put it together and gave it a taste. It tastes like... [drum roll] ice cream and bacon. IKR?? Yeah, it's pretty straightforward. BUT the friend that requested it, liked it so that's all that mattered. (And a few more people who tried it were pretty okay with it!) It's something I can say I've tried now and that's something! BACON ICE CREAM
Source: David Lebovitz

For the candied bacon;
5 strips bacon
about 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

For the ice cream custard:
3 tablespoons salted butter
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar, light or dark (you can use either)
2 3/4 cup half-and-half
5 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons dark rum or whiskey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
optional: 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. To candy the bacon, preheat the oven to 400F (200C).

2. Lay the strips of bacon on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or aluminum foil, shiny side down.

3. Sprinkle 1 1/2-2 teaspoons of brown sugar evenly over each strip of bacon, depending on length.

4. Bake for 12-16 minutes. Midway during baking, flip the bacon strips over and drag them through the dark, syrupy liquid that's collected on the baking sheet. Continue to bake until as dark as mahogany. Remove from oven and cool the strips on a wire rack.

5. Once crisp and cool, chop into little pieces, about the size of grains of rice. (Bacon bits can be stored in an airtight container and chilled for a day or so, or stored in the freezer a few weeks ahead.)

6. To make the ice cream custard, melt the butter in a heavy, medium-size saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar and half of the half-and-half. Pour the remaining half-and-half into a bowl set in an ice bath and set a mesh strainer over the top.

7. In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the warm brown sugar mixture to them, whisking the yolks constantly as you pour. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

8. Cook over low to moderate heat, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom with a heatproof spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

9. Strain the custard into the half-and-half, stirring over the ice bath, until cool. Add liquor, vanilla and cinnamon, if using.

10. Refrigerate the mixture. Once thoroughly chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Add the bacon bits during the last moment of churning, or stir them in when you remove the ice cream from the machine.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ChocoNanaButter, Experiment 2

The chocolate-banana-peanut butter experimenting continues. I feel a little like a mad scientist, just concocting stuff with three ingredients and hoping it'll hold together. My more wackier ideas are looking better and better as I work on the balance of said ingredients. The key seems to be the banana is very easily overpowered by the strong chocolate and peanut butter flavors. Even here, with banana creme filling in the cupcakes, the intense chocolate and creamy peanut butter completely take over and then just a hint of banana comes through in a bite.

I'd like to start toying with more predominantly banana recipes (like banana ice cream with chocolate or maybe peanut butter cup chunks stirred in) to see if that helps balance the flavors. I also bought banana flavoring which I am, admittedly, terrified of (mostly because it's "imitation" and alcohol based). I'm just not too comfortable with putting something like that in my cooking...

But even if you're not feeling adventurous or, you know,
inclined to this ChocoNanaButter creation, the straight peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes are amazing. They're Ina Garten's (with a guest author for the peanut butter icing) so you know they're good.

The icing is sweet buttery goodness..

Adapted from Ina Garten

Chocolate Cupcakes

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing, recipe follows
Banana Creme Filling, recipe follows
Chopped salted peanuts, to decorate, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes.

Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.

Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before filling with banana creme and frosting.

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Banana Creme Filling

1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
1 large banana
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed pan until very hot but not boiling.

Mix the sugar, flour and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the hot milk and beat until well blended. Pour back into the pan and continue to stir vigorously over low heat for minutes, until very thick and smooth. Add the egg yolks and cook for a few more minutes. Cool, stirring from time to time.

Mash the banana and beat it until smooth. Add tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional), and stir the mixture into the cooled filling.

Cut a cone out of the cooled cupcakes. Trim tip of top cone, fill cupcake with cooled banana creme and return top of cupcake.

Frost each cupcake with Peanut Butter Icing and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pictoral Ode to Pluots

From Wikipedia: The pluot is a complex cross hybrid of plum and apricot, being ¾ plum and ¼ apricot in percentage. The pluot, like the aprium, is derived from the half-plum–half-apricot hybrid called the plumcot.

Here, I have two varieties of the pluot and the small, yellowish fruit was sweeter but both were extraordinary.It melts in your mouth like liquid candy. Best fruit EVER.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Healthy = Healthy!

It's not that I feel guilty, per se, for the overly sweet and fatty foods I've been making of late but sometimes you just feel like something that might actually be good for you. I went in search of a tasty, healthy muffin and came across these wildly popular bran muffins on All Recipes.

Their popularity is undoubtedly rooted in the versatility of these simple muffins. Don't want oil? Yank it out and replace it with healthy applesauce, pumpkin, cooked and pureed carrots, squash or banana! Want some extra oomph? Add shredded carrots, dates, pecans, walnuts, carob chips or coconut. It all works!

I, personally, am a big walnut fan so I played it safe and kept it simple. I used applesauce and a little cinnamon to compliment that then threw in some walnuts. These make the perfect on-the-go breakfast because they're packed with all that healthy junk I've been neglecting lately. AND the applesauce makes them incredibly moist and so tasty!

Adapted from All, Submitted by Janet Kalman Villada

1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup applesauce
1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.

2. Mix together wheat bran and buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Beat together applesauce, egg, sugar and vanilla and add to buttermilk/bran mixture. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir flour mixture into buttermilk mixture, until just blended. Fold in walnuts and spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.

4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

ChocoNanaButter, Experiment 1

About a year ago, Reese's put out a special Elvis edition of their peanut butter cups with banana creme added to commemorate his famous peanut butter/banana fried sandwiches. Ever since, I've been fascinated with the peanut butter/banana/chocolate combo. I've envisioned pies, stuffed croissants and more. It fell by the wayside when summer rolled around and the rich, thick dessert held little appeal. Well. My experimental side won out.

As far as experiments go, this one was a moderate success. I wouldn't say complete for a few reasons. It's messy and it's only OKAY. I think, maybe, my proportions were off - the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter was too much when dealing with a stronger flavor (dark chocolate) to smooth peanut butter. And the banana was nearly drowned out completely.

But it's worth trying. If you do decide to try at home, start with less chocolate than you'd think (I used about four of the individual Dove dark chocolates and I think it was too much). They melt and they're strong so take it easy on those! Even when you think there isn't enough (of chocolate or peanut butter), keep in mind that they're going to melt and alllll run together in the gooey sandwich.

Be prepared with many, many napkins...


2 pieces bread
2 tbsp butter (or as needed)
2-3 tbsp peanut butter
1-2 ounces chocolate, chopped
1 banana

In a frying pan, melt 1 tbsp of the butter. Make sure butter does not burn. Slice the bananas into 1/4-inch thick slices. Spread the peanut butter on 1 slice of bread and place chopped chocolate on peanut butter. Cover with banana slices in a single layer and top with the remaining slice of bread. Spread the remaining butter on one side of the sandwich. Grill the sandwiches in the frying pan, unbuttered side first, until each side is golden brown and chocolate is melted.

Cut diagonally and serve.