Thursday, June 19, 2014

I scream, You scream...

It's hot here in Virginia.  Really hot.  And humid.  This is the part of the weather I detest the most. Honestly.  It's too hot to really make anything that requires turning on the stove or oven, so my cooking options are limited.  It's also the first week of summer break, and I've already given up a little.  Sandwiches for lunch.  Leftover ice cream cake for breakfast. I'm not kidding. I'm cutting myself some slack this week. Just one week, because I have PTA Secretary duties to get working on. Or at least, that's what I'm telling myself.  Then I will get back into the swing of things.

One thing I have started with the boys is calisthenics (burpees, mountain climbers) and stretching.  I'm a fairly flexible person for my age, and it's killing me that my boys can't even touch their toes.  So I'm on a mission to improve their flexibility.  I've actually made my youngest cry already, which makes me sound like a monster.  But then I let him have ice cream cake for breakfast, so I'm not sure what that make me (still a monster to some, best mom ever to my boys).  But I do have more plans.  Bike rides, cool science experiments, reading for 30 minutes a day (they tried to talk me down to 15 minutes, but I held firm -- I'm really such a hard ass). This time, I resolve to follow through on all of them.  :-)

First, though, I wanted to share my recipe for strawberry ice cream.  Earlier this month, I went berry picking with some friends (without the kids!) and came home with 4 pounds of strawberries.  That is an insane amount of berries that would need to be consumed in about two days (they turn fast on you!), so I was working them into everything I could think of: smoothies, salads, syrup for waffles, peanut butter and strawberry sandwiches, and, of course, just snacking. I still ended up freezing some, but I was able to use a lot up making this version of strawberry ice cream.  The best part is that you didn't have to cook anything (no eggs), yet it stayed creamy because of the small amount of vodka that I added.

So, if you find yourself with a ton of strawberries, do yourself a favor and make this.  Or go out and get yourself some strawberries on purpose and make this.  I don't care, but you should give this thing a try! It's easy, has great strawberry flavor, and your family will love you even more than they already do!

They especially love me when I let them clean out the ice cream maker.  :-)

Gadget alert: You will need an ice cream maker for this

Marna's Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, cleaned and hulled (green tops cut off)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup regular coconut milk (not "lite")
1/2 cup 2 % milk (you could use whole if you wanted, but not any lower milk fat percentage, otherwise the ice cream will get "icy" rather than creamy)
pinch salt
2-inch piece of vanilla bean
1 Tbsp Cake-flavored vodka
1 cup coarsely chopped strawberries

Note: you can substitute a Tbsp of pure vanilla extract, if you don't have the vanilla bean and cake-flavored vodka, but that vodka is delicious and I highly recommend you buy some.  :-)

Combine the 1 1/2 cups of hulled strawberries and sugar in a food processor and blend together. It's okay if there are some strawberry chunks, but it should mostly be smooth.  Set strawberry mixture aside.

In a medium (at least 4 cup capacity) bowl, combine the heavy cream, coconut milk (be sure especially to get the hardened "cream" on the top of the coconut milk can, if there is any), milk, salt, and vodka. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out of the insides of the bean.  Add the vanilla bean seeds to the milk mixture.

Combine the milk mixture with the strawberry puree, then chill the mixture at least an hour in the refrigerator (as long as overnight).  Once thoroughly chilled, add the milk/strawberry mixture to your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

While the mixture churns, spread the 1 cup of coarsely chopped strawberries in a single layer on a sheet pan, then freeze for 10 minutes.

 After the ice cream has churned about 15 minutes, add the frozen strawberry chunks (break up any large chunks before adding to the mixture in the ice cream maker. Continue churning in the ice cream maker for another five minutes or so (until the ice cream is at "soft serve" consistency). Turn off ice cream maker, then transfer ice cream from freezer bowl to an airtight container.  Freeze until desired firmness (for us it was about another hour).

Enjoy!  It was particularly good with chocolate sauce and sliced almonds.  :-)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Asian Week

So my older son, the more adventurous eater, requested "Asian Week" at our house, partly based on the pictures he saw of the May 2014 Cooking Light magazine I was reading (they did look good -- see below).  They did a feature with "quick" recipes, including a few Asian-inspired, so I thought I would give it a try.  I only had it in me to do three nights, though, because there are lots of ingredients and trying to do all the prep for 5 nights seemed a little daunting, given that my kids have soccer practice 4 out of those 5 weekday nights.  So quiche and pancakes provided our non-Asian filler for the week.

The recipes were really pretty simple, and the only ingredient that I couldn't find was powdered peanut butter. The magazine article made it sound so simple, that it could be found "with the peanut butter." Uhhh, no - and I looked in both the regular and natural foods sections of our Wegmans, which tends to have a lot of specialty items.  I should have known better, since I had never even heard of it, but it was also something I had never had to look for, but, being the peanut butter fan that I am, I was pretty surprised to learn about an entirely new peanut butter product of which I had never heard.  :-)

I was seduced, however, by the misleading optimistic "hands on" and "total cooking" time estimates.  When they list, for example, "1/2 red onion, chopped" they do not count the chopping time into the preparation time, at least as far as I can tell.  And for Asian food, that can add a lot more time (lots of peeling and chopping of ginger, lemon grass, herbs, vegetables, measuring out of sauce ingredients), say, 15 or 20 more minutes.  So that 30 minute recipe that sounds so simple turns into a 45 minute race to get a meal on the table before the kids have to leave for soccer practice.

Another tip for Asian cooking: be sure to have all your ingredients prepped and measured (including the spices and liquids) before you start (although you should heat your pan as you're prepping so that it's ready to go), because once you start cooking, it does go pretty fast.

The first night I made Sweet and Sour Chicken, which had the elusive powdered peanut butter ingredient.  I just left it out and added a little extra flour.  I should have left the coating off altogether, because I thought all it did was get everything else all gummy and glue-y.  The rest of the family liked it, though, so I will probably make this again...just without coating the chicken.

Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe

The next recipe was the Vietnamese Caramel Pork. I really liked this, and so did everyone else.  Good flavor, although I have to admit I didn't use the brown sugar.  I had some leftover homemade caramel sauce that I used instead.  Still yummy!

Vietnamese Caramel Pork Recipe

And finally, the Thai Shrimp Curry was my favorite, even if I realized too late that I didn't have the right curry paste, so I punted, using Penzey's Sweet Curry blended with some Thai chili paste that I did have have.  Still was really good.  The color was just a little off <<shrugging it off>>.  No one said I had to be perfect, right?

Thai Shrimp Curry Recipe

(All photos from the Cooking Light recipe website)