Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I Scream! You Scream! Mexican Chocolate Gelato!

Last summer, I found an ice cream maker at the summer palace’s rather pathetic excuse for a thrift store. Greg remained suspicious of it, even though I was barely lying when I told him it looked like it had never been used. (It looked like a fondue pot or a novelty waffle iron, which is to say it looked like it was a Christmas gift that had been used once and then retired.) I spent a happy month fooling around with the ice cream recipes printed in the instruction pamphlet the original owner had thoughtfully included, but at the end of the summer, I bestowed the ice cream maker on our friend and neighbor, Mo, because I felt guilty that we’d inadvertently lost her grill top at a beach fire…and it wasn’t hers to lose because she was renting!

Shortly after we arrived this summer, Mo, now the queen of her own summer palace, invited us to dine with her family in their digs. I would’ve brought a grill top, but since they already have one, I volunteered to bring some homemade ice cream. “Didn’t you give us your ice cream maker last year, though?” her husband Matt asked, in a way that makes me suspect that it’s probably doing another tour of duty in the crappy little thrift store.

“Yeah, but I brought a new one with me,” I told him. The one that my mother gave me six Christmases ago, that I used exactly once. Now I’ll either have to haul it back to NYC, or buy another one for the winter palace, because this is a recipe that needs making more than one month out of the year. Perhaps there’s a way to make it without an ice cream maker. Pour it in Popsicle molds? Drink it like a milk shake? You try it, and let me know how it goes, preferably before July 30, so I don’t get stuck needlessly hauling this albatross of an appliance round trip.

Mexican Chocolate Gelato

Whisk 1/2 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
& a pinch of salt in a big heavy skillet.

(Cornstarch always makes me nostalgic for the days when we’d go on illegal midnight publicity runs, plastering every lamp post in lower Manhattan with promotional flyers for our late night theatrical activities. We called it wheat pasting, but it’s actually corn starch pasting. You boil up a boxful with enough water to make a gel, and you’ve got yourself a glue that can withstand both the elements and Mayor Giuliani’s Quality of Life goons! Just make sure you let it cool before you go dipping your paws in it.)

Now turn on the flame to medium-high and slowly add 2 cups of milk, whisking to dissolve the cornstarch. Keep whisking (in a lazy, desultory fashion) for the six minutes or so it’ll take to get all thick and pudding-y.

Remove from heat and whisk in 5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. I used about half a bag of Ghiradelli’s bittersweet baking chips, which, I know is more than the recipe calls for. You see, I’ve got the little kids who hang around the premises with their hands out and I have to give them something to make them go away. If you’re using a chocolate bar or something, you should chop it up a bitsy for easier dissolving.

Okay, here’s an important step and I wouldn’t have thought so until I tried to save myself some labor by pouring directly from the skillet into the ice cream maker, which then squandered all its mystical freezing properties on rendering a warm liquid into a cool liquid, rather than turning a cool liquid into a frozen solid. Pour the chocolate mixture into a medium sized bowl and suspend that bowl over another bowl filled with ice water. Give it at least fifteen minutes to blow off some steam.

THEN pour it into the ice cream maker. (If you’re just getting around to slitting open that box that you unwrapped three Christmases ago, consider this fair warning that you’ll need to stick the freezing cylinder or whatever it’s called in your freezer overnight before embarking on this mission.) To deploy a little classic ice cream recipe language, “freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions”. In my experience, this is usually about 25 minutes, though let’s not forget I wound up with something the consistency of a slushy due to my inability to play by the rules. Believe the manufacturer over me, but if you find yourself in a position where the original owner neglected to enclose instructions before carting this fun culinary burden to the thrift store, aim for 25. Don’t be afraid to go longer if a visual check reveals something soupier than you prefer. (Don’t try the finger test, unless your guests enjoy the metallic tang of frozen blood...Alternatively, you could turn off the machine before poking Pointer into the thick of things, not that such a prudent thought would occur to me until it was too late. Actually, that’s not true. My Uncle Charlie owned an ice factory, and once, when he was surveying the line, he noticed that a couple of cubes had become stuck, thus blocking production. I’m not sure what his reasoning was – perhaps the ballpoint pen in his pocket seemed a less sanitary nudging device than his second and third fingers, but at any rate, Uncle Charlie was always a big hit with the kids at our early 70’s family reunions. We couldn’t get enough of the way he’d flash us that stubby peace symbol! His experience colored my own. I may stick a knife in the toaster now and then, but I’m super safety conscious around anything with whirring blades.)

Before I go off on a tangent about that Haley’s Comet ride on the midway of the Indiana State Fair, the one that whirls around and around until you’re stuck to the wall by sheer centrifugal force, at which point it rises above its base above the whirring blades of the enormous fan that powers it - did some kid in Ohio really get chopped up when he managed to unstuck himself or is that just urban legend? – let me advise you that you can add stuff during the final minute of freezing, chocolate chips, m&ms, chopped up fingers, whatever you want. My favorite was a crumbled Heath Bar, though I’m spoiled because I didn’t use a Heath Bar. I used Sweet Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee,a ridiculously luxurious confection that some houseguests bestowed upon us (Karen! CJ! When are you coming back and what are you bringing us?) The kids, little philistines, turned up their noses at it, despite the fact that it contains Pink Himalayan Sea Salt that was probably hauled down the side of a mountain by sherpas! Given that the kids weren’t clamoring for their fair share, my rate of consumption was cause for concern, given that I spend an inordinate amount of time in a bikini whilst in residence here at the summer palace. Rather than hog it all to myself, I decided to hack it to bits to share the high-caloric wealth with other fans of the sweet and frozen. (Gone are the days when we adults could keep the kids in the dark by speaking in such euphemisms.)

Scrape it out of the ice cream maker, into a rinsed out yogurt container or some other such vessel, and put it in the freezer for another couple of hours, if that’s any sort of option.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Muttar Paneer

Muttar Paneer

Greetings from the summer palace, where I've resumed cooking and writing about the results, after more than a month of balls-to-the-wall publicity, rehearsal, end-of-school celebrations and parading around dressed like a pirate. First up is the Muttar Paneer I made a few weeks ago, on one of those rare evenings we had the Silverback home for dinner, to remind us of our happy, aimless wanderings around the Indian sub-continent, when we were young and pretty and Greg wore a Speedo. I made it again a couple of nights ago, to justify hauling a frozen block of paneer all the way from Jackson Heights, Queens to the back woods of Cape Cod (not that the ingredients situation hasn't improved in the fifteen years since I started making the trek to my gentleman friend's childhood home - you can get lemongrass, fish sauce and Pilates balls at the Stop n' Shop in Orleans, and Provincetown has more Jamaican goods than East Flatbush, a reflection of the folks who've stepped in to fill the seasonal jobs the college and town kids now pass over for Washington and Wall Street internships.)

Muttar Paneer

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a big skillet, preferably something that doesn't look too preppy.

Cube an 8-ounce block of paneer, fry it, remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. I got my first paneer from Patel Brothers and it came pre-fried, so I skipped this step. My second paneer came from Kalyustan's. It was not pre-fried, but I skipped (forgot) this step, anyway and still wound up with a plate licker. If there are no paneer-wallahs in your town, you'll have to get some cottage cheese and some cheesecloth, do an Internet search and make it your ownself. Sounds like a pain in the heiner, I know, but then so does taking the subway to Jackson Heights. Really, it's not that much harder than buying cheesecloth.

Chop 2 onions and fry them up in the butter. Wondering if you'll need more butter after frying up the paneer? Honey, ask someone who takes the time to fry his or her paneer.

Mince four cloves of garlic and a thumb-sized cube of ginger and add them to the onions.

Then add:
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of coriander
1 chopped jalapeno
1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted
and some salt.
I must confess, I said the F-word in front of the children when I realized that though I had remembered cheap wine and comic books, I had forgotten to pick up a can of tomatoes, which, I might add, was my own innovation knowing that the fresh ones called for in every recipe I unearthed on the Internet last May would be mealy and cost a fortune for at Met Foods.) Fortunately, my sister-in-law had left behind a can of Hunts Tomato Sauce when she sojourned here last Memorial Day weekend, so I dusted that off and dumped it in - tasted fine, but had a slightly negative impact on the texture.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in 3 ounces of yogurt or sour cream. I've used them both and would not recommend one over the other as far as this recipe goes, though if you're looking to fortify yourself with a spoonful of something midway through your task, sour cream is the obvious, nay, only choice.

Return to low heat, add the paneer and a ten-ounce packet of frozen organic peas.

Add 1 & 1/2 cups of water and bring to a simmer.

Add 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala. The first time I prepared this dish, I mistakenly believed myself to be in possession of garam masala and when I found that I was not, I substituted a teaspoon of this lovely yellow curry powder I'm partial to, not least because it matches my living room walls. It worked out so well, that this time, I couldn't bear the thought of not adding some, even though I had borne a vial of freshly purchased garam masala to the summer palace, feeling like the Fourth King of Orient Are, or possibly a well-mannered houseguest bringing myself a thoughtful hostess present.

As for the 2 tablespoons of fresh coriander one is expected to add at the end, I have never done so, though I imagine it would be quite nice. Once when I got it into my head to make Habla Channah in rural Vermont, I went out in the field, picked a few tufts of clover, (It's okay to eat the kind with edible heart-shaped leaves, unless you pick them from behind a bench in Tompkins Square or something), and added them. Perhaps next time I'll try that little trick, though I expect that by now, even the bait shop on route 6 probably carry the stuff.