Monday, May 22, 2017

Ghetto Toffee Ice Cream

Earlier in the year, I made a cake using flavored tea that I bought on sale from David's Tea. I still have several varieties left from the cute star-shaped gift set and I've decided I'll probably use a few of them to make ice cream this spring and summer. Yes, ice cream. Tea infused milk or cream makes a lovely ice cream with barely any effort--I normally have to heat the cream anyway, so why not let some tea leaves hang around in it for an hour or so before I proceed?

And so it went this particular weekend that after I selected English Toffee flavored tea to make my ice cream base, I decided I also wanted to make some ghetto toffee. For completely unrelated reasons. A friend had sent me a video for a matzo toffee sometime before Passover, which put it in my mind. This matzo toffee was left unbaked, instead the caramel was cooked for a longer time. I suppose it was tasty enough, but I prefer a baked version. Not only do the saltines (or matzo, if you prefer) get toasted in the oven, but also the caramel gets a chance to ooze around to the bottom of the crackers and coat that side, too. So the toffee is tasty on both sides. You can choose your method; I've included the one I prefer within the recipe below.

So...toffee ice cream. Ghetto toffee. Seemed to me they needed to become one. So I broke up some of the toffee and layered it in the finished ice cream. It's maybe a bit more difficult to scoop, but the end result is very good. The crackers don't get soft in the ice cream, so there's plenty of great texture between them and the nuts and the thin layer of chocolate. I think this ice cream is a winner, and I hope you do, too.

If you can't find English Toffee flavored tea (though several companies, including Celestial Seasonings, do produce it), use a chocolate or caramel flavor instead.

Ghetto Toffee Ice Cream

For the toffee:
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
40 saltines (1 sleeve)
6 ounces chocolate chips
Walnuts or nuts of your choice, chopped

For the ice cream:
2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons loose English toffee-flavored tea, preferable David's Tea
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon corn starch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cream cheese

To make the toffee. Preheat oven to 400°.

Cover a large rimmed cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Lay out the crackers in one layer, making sure they are touching.

Combine the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and pour over the crackers. Use an offset spatula to spread the caramel evenly. Place pan into the oven and bake for 5 minutes.

Remove pan to a rack. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips. Wait a minute or so to allow the chocolate to melt, the use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate evenly over the crackers. Sprinkle with nuts.

Allow the chocolate to dry completely before breaking up into pieces.

To make the ice cream: Put the milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, and tea in a large sauce pot and cook over medium high heat until tiny bubbles start to form around the edges but the milk does not boil. Turn off the heat and cover the pot. Allow to steep for 30 minutes to an hour.

Strain out the tea. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the milk mixture and return the rest to the pot. Mix the 2 tablespoons of milk with the cornstarch to make a slurry. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream cheese and salt together until smooth. Prepare a shallow ice bath: in a large bowl or baking pan, place an inch or two of cold water and several ice cubes. Set aside.

Bring the milk tea mixture to a boil and boil for 4 minutes, watching carefully so it doesn't boil over (stir when it starts to expand), remove from heat, and slowly whisk in the slurry. Bring back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Blend a few tablespoons of hot milk mixture into the cream cheese to loosen it, then pour the cream cheese mixture into the pan of milk. Whisk well until smooth. Pour into a container with a tight-fitting lid and place the container into the ice bath until cool, ensuring that the water level doesn't come up as far as the lid. When the mixture seems mostly cool, refrigerate until completely cold.

Place ice cream mixture into an ice cream machine and proceed according to manufacturers instructions.

Scoop some of the ice cream into a freezer container. Sprinkle with a layer of the toffee, adding additional nuts if desired. Repeat ice cream and toffee layers twice more. Put a layer of waxed paper over the top of the ice cream and put on the lid. Freeze until desired texture.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

A New Tide Rolls in for By The Docks

We took my mom to By the Docks in Middle River for her birthday in 2006. It was our first time there and, after re-reading the Minx's blog post about the restaurant, I see we weren't blown away by the place. Except for the crab cakes, that is. Three of us ordered them and were stunned by the softball-sized mounds sitting on our plates. The Minx and I always planned to go back, but with all the new restaurants that popped up over the last 11 years, we just never got around to it.

As it turned out, By the Docks has gone through some changes over the years, with the original owners selling in 2010 and then buying the place back in 2015. They've recently remodeled the 19th century building and revamped the menu. We were invited to come by and check out the changes, and we were more than happy to comply.

Our group started with a couple of appetizers for the table. The oysters Rockefeller uses three kinds of cheese which are folded into the spinach before being placed atop the oysters. Their own imperial sauce is also dolloped on top, making for a very rich bite that is almost a meal unto itself.

We've talked about calamari a great deal on this blog, and it's heartening to find that the quality of the preparation has been steadily improving over the years. Even with that said, I think this might be the best fried calamari I've ever eaten. The fresh calamari is first marinated in Greek olive oil for 24 hours, then hand cut into rings slightly larger than what I've typically seen, They're lightly coated and flash fried so the calamari is incredibly tender. The crunchy coating is nicely seasoned so you don't need marinara sauce, but it is provided on the side. (Diners can also choose to have their calamari tossed in an Asian-style sweet and spicy sauce.)

For her entree, the Minx ordered the Jewels of the Sea: the colossal jumbo lump crab cake they are so well known for along with a 4-ounce lobster tail, jumbo shrimp, and broiled scallops. The crab cakes have little filler and are very light on the Old Bay, so the sweet crab flavor comes through. As if this wasn't enough food, each entree comes with two sides, in our case, baked potatoes and creamed spinach.

I went for the Rockfish a la Vasca: pan-seared rockfish sauteed with shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, calamari, and Jonah crab claws in a traditional Spanish green sauce of fresh parsley, garlic, and wine. The chef is originally from Spain and he sees this as sort of a paella of seafood without the rice. The green sauce is something I'd never had before, and the sheer quantity of seafood is overwhelming. When I read the description of the dish, I expected a couple of shrimp, one scallop, a couple clams, etc. As you can see from the picture, it's an orgy of shellfish piled so bounteously that you can't even see the rockfish underneath (which was delicious, by the way).

Other diners during this media event tried the stuffed lobster tail and were presented with a mountain of broiled crab meat, like the crab cake but even bigger, with a 9-ounce lobster tail hiding underneath. Portions are truly incredible here.

Of course, it's not all seafood. While it's the star, there are also plenty of chicken, steak, and pasta entrees, and sandwiches like oyster po' boys, Reubens, and burgers.

Even though we had to get boxes for our leftovers, we couldn't leave without trying a couple of their desserts, made by Yia Yia's Bakery. Turns out, the family that owns By the Docks also owns Yia Yia's, where we have been getting yummy holiday pies for years. Their baklava cheesecake has all the elements one typically finds in the Greek pastry, with a rich layer of creamy cheesecake in the middle. A great combination of two classic desserts.

The Smith Island cake is everything the traditional dessert should be with thin layers of white sponge glued together by rich, fudge-like frosting. As full as I was, I couldn't stop eating this dessert.

In addition to their regular menu offered every night of the week, By The Docks offers specials Monday through Thursday like Monday Lobster Night where you can get twin lobsters for $28.99 or Thursday Steak Night where all cuts are just $19.99, They also offer a $17.99 brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. We're quite confident we won't wait another 11 years to go back to By The Docks.

By the Docks
3321 Eastern Blvd
Middle River, MD 21220-2811

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Carrots and Peas

Scott Hines' spring menu at B & O American Brasserie introduced me to the concept of smoked carrots. His smoked carrot agnolotti was one of the best dishes I've had in a long time, and I wanted to see if I could replicate those flavors at home.

I don't know what it is with me and carrots. I really didn't like them much at all when I was a kid, ignored them for much of my adult life, but when I hit my 40s, I started to crave them. But I don't want them cloying, I want them interesting. Hines' smoked carrots, like Bobby Flay's charred ones, are interesting. They had a bit of sweetness, sure, but the not-so-subtle smoky thing enhanced the more savory aspects of the vegetable.

Luckily, I have a stovetop smoker. I don't use it very much. Honestly, I forget that I even have it most of the time. It's stupid easy to use, so I loaded it with carrots and some cherry wood chips and let 'er rip.

I'm also lucky to be able to text Chef Hines and ask him how long he smokes his carrots. He not only told me the length of time for smoking, but also that he simmers the smoked carrots in heavy cream until tender, purees them, then adds mascarpone to make the agnolotti filling.

Heavy cream, mascarpone, butter, ricotta salata - the restaurant version of the dish had lots of super-rich ingredients, which one should expect of restaurant food. It's not meant to be eaten every day, tempting though it may be. I didn't want to replicate Chef Hines' entire dish, just the flavor profile, particularly those carrots. So rather than use heavy cream to simmer them, I used chicken stock, and when I made the puree, I added whole milk instead of heavy cream. I also added an onion for body, which helped replace some of the texture that cream might have added.

I did use some of the other elements of the restaurant dish: peas; morel mushrooms; ricotta salata. I already had dried morels and the other two were easy to find at the supermarket. And of course I wasn't going to fuss with making homemade pasta (which I have never done before), so store-bought farfalle worked just fine. Next time I might try pappardelle though.

Overall, I think my experiment was quite successful. The smoked carrots were delicious and something I am going to incorporate into my repertoire. Might even try charring them first next time and then serving them whole. The sauce was flavorful yet light, and all of the elements worked nicely together.

Spring Pasta with Carrots and Peas

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into chunks, sliced lengthwise if thick
1 medium onion, diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chicken or vegetable stock
Whole milk
1 lb farfalle pasta
1/2 lb sugar snap peas, sliced on the bias into thin strips
A handful of dried morel mushrooms, soaked until soft
Ricotta salata

Prepare a stovetop smoker with mesquite or cherry chips according to manufacturer's directions. If you don't own a smoker, you can make your own from items you have around the house. Check out this video for more information. Add the carrots and smoke for 35-40 minutes.

Remove carrots from smoker and add to a sauce pot with 1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock. Simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes.

While carrots are cooking, saute onion in a tablespoon of olive oil and a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper over medium heat, stirring regularly, until they are softened and beginning to brown on the edges, about 10 minutes.

Puree the carrots with their cooking liquid and the onions until smooth. Use additional stock and/or milk to create a thick sauce consistency.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, saving some of the pasta water.

Do a quick blanch of the sugar snaps by putting them in a microwave-safe bowl, covering with plastic, and microwaving for 1 minute. Uncover bowl and set aside. If you make these ahead, cool down with a few ice cubes in the bowl and drain before using.

Drain the mushrooms (save the liquid for another use, like a soup stock). Saute them in butter for a few minutes and set aside.

Toss the pasta with the carrot puree. If the puree seems too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water. Add the sugar snaps and morels just before serving and toss again.

Top with some of the ricotta salata and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Farro Salad

I'm a fan of Deb Perelman's blog, Smitten Kitchen. It's actually one of the few blogs I still read regularly; she writes in an entertaining manner, and her recipes are uniformly successful. Because I knew the recipes would be solid, I made sure to get a copy of her cookbook and read it from cover to cover. Several recipes jumped out at me, screaming, "make me! make me!" One of those was this salad of farro with carrots, parsnips, feta, and mint, all bathed in a dressing of lemon juice, harissa, and honey. And there you have the recipe. It's really simple and really good. The farro is pleasantly chewy, the root vegetables are sweet, the mint aromatic, and the dressing and cheese really liven up the dish. I think this will become a warm-weather staple in my house, once I can figure out how to cook the root veg without turning on the oven. Perhaps pan sauteeing over high heat, maybe charring the veg first over a gas burner.

I'm just going to paraphrase the recipe here, telling you what I did. If you want the exact recipe, you'll just have to buy the book!

Farro Salad with Carrots and Other Good Stuff

1 pound of parsnips, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 pound of carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Seems like a lot of veg, but they shrink down to nothing. Toss the veg with olive oil and salt and spread out onto two foil-lined baking sheets. Roast 20 minutes at 400°F, stir, then roast an additional 10 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

8 ounces of dry farro
Add farro to 2 1/4 cups water or stock with a big pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cover pot. Cook 35 minutes, or until tender and fluffy. (I used Wegman's brand farro and it was done in about 25 minutes. YMMV.) Cover pot and let sit for 10 mins or so to allow farro to absorb remaining water (I poured it out.) Fluff with a fork.

Make a dressing with 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, a big pinch of cumin, 2 teaspoons of honey, and harissa to taste. (I have dried harissa powder in a jar and it's very mild so I used 2 teaspoons. Other brands will be uber hot, so use judiciously.) Season with salt and set aside. Have more lemon ready, in case you need more oompfh.

Toss the cooked farro with the dressing and add the veg. Toss again. Add a big handful of crumbled feta cheese and another handful of chopped fresh mint. Stir and taste for seasoning. You might need more salt and or lemon juice, as I did.

I served the salad with boneless skinless chicken thighs that I had marinated in a combo of salt, harissa, cumin, and olive oil (pinches of each for 3 thighs). Browned on both sides in a bit of olive oil, then turned down the heat and cooked until done, about 20 minutes total.

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