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opening my freezer is now a special occasion.

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream FilterIf I start thinking about a recipe, I’ll never make it.

The problem is, when I make dinner, I generally throw things together, without much preconceived thought.

 So when I start to think of something I’d like to make it’s generally a special occasion recipe & I rarely plan special occasions. Or, by the time a special occasion comes around, I’ve thought of a different recipe. It’s really a pity, because now only the ether knows if those forgotten recipes were any good.

I didn’t let that happen to the latest though. This recipe deserved to be made. Deserved to be loved and devoured and wistfully remembered. And since it’s mid-summer, there’s always a barbecue around the corner.

Inspired by this recipe, but wanting something with a cleaner flavor profile, I began to wonder how I would make cinnamon toast ice cream, had I thought of it myself. I wanted bold cinnamon flavor, followed by the caramel undertones of toasted white bread. An ice cream packed with flavors that would transport anyone’s mind to that of a child clinging on to a counter, wide-eyed, anticipating the milliseconds ticking by until that toaster dings!

But it wasn’t enough to just have a creamy, cinnamony, toasty flavor profile. A crunch was required. A crunch that could be heard across a room. Now, ever since learning to make a proper crouton in culinary school, I have wondered why croutons have not made a permanent leap to the sundae bar. It’s the perfect ice cream topper for lovers of salty-sweet, both defiantly crunchy and undeniably buttery. But, because this was cinnamon toast ice cream, why not drive the point home with cinnamon toast croutons? And, by damn, what a good point it was.

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream (makes 1 Gallon, recipe can easily be divided for a quart machine)

3 slices white bread, toasted to med-dark gold
6 cups heavy cream
6 cups whole milk
4 3-inch cinnamon sticks
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 2/3 cups granulated natural sugar
16 egg yolks
1 T vanilla extract

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1. Bring 1/2 of cream and 1/2 of milk, salt, cinnamon sticks and toasted bread just to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and let steep for 30min-1hr.

2. Strain toast, making sure to gently press to extract as much liquid as possible from the bread. Return milk & cream to sauce pan, along with cinnamon sticks (but not the bread). And bring back to a simmer.

3. Meanwhile, whisk yolks and sugar together until pale yellow. Once milk has come back to a simmer, slowly pour into the yolks while continuing to whisk. Once incorporated, return the whole mix to the saucepan and continually stir over medium heat until the mixture has thickened slightly and it coats the back of a spoon.

4. Pour into a bowl and immediately whisk in remaining milk & cream to help cool it off. Add vanilla. Place into ice bath or let cool for 1 hour (or until room temperature) on counter. Cover tightly & refrigerate (with cinnamon sticks) 24 hours.

5. Strain & mix with ice cream maker, according to manufacturer’s directions.

Cinnamon Toast Croutons

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6 slices white bread
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons granular natural sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine salt

1. Remove crust and then slice bread into 1/2-inch cubes.

2. Mix together sugar & cinnamon.

3. Place butter in a 12″ saute pan. (For this method, I find it’s best to turn two eyes on the same side of my home stovetop to high.) When the butter is almost, but not quite completely melted, add the bread cubes. Shake the pan back and forth over the two eyes (or one if your stove gets hot enough), stopping occasionally to toss with a silicone spatula. You want to keep the cubes constantly moving so that they are uniformly browned on all sides.

4. Once they begin to toast, you should be able to begin to hear them getting crisper as you saute. Once they start to sound ‘hollow’, sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over them & continue to saute. The sugar will start to melt and stick, but keep moving and the bread will soak it all up. When the cinnamon sugar is absorbed, spill croutons onto a plate that’s been lined with a paper towel and sprinkle salt over the top & shake gently to evenly disperse. Allow to cool.

To serve: Layer scoops of cinnamon toast ice cream with dashes of croutons. Or just sprinkle them over the top. Or add them to your sundae bar. I took them both to a 4th of July party where there was an unbeatable peach cobbler (don’t worry mom, he’s from Atlanta & makes the same cobbler we do–which for the rest of you, is the only way to make cobbler). We scooped the ice cream atop the cobbler and threw the croutons on top of that: Time. Stopped.

Happy reminiscing!

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Growing Up & Branching Out

As I progressed in the development of my menu project, something seemingly unrelated, yet altogether more important, became apparent to me: that the end of July, 2012—the point at which the project would be due—would mark the end of a near decade living with my sister, as adults, tackling New York as comrades.

I point this out because my menu focused on heightened versions of the foods of our youth. Taking the recipes learned from my mother or grandmother and twisting them into restaurant worthy dishes was a study in reflection. First in reminiscence of the time spent eating those dishes, how they shaped the chef to be. Second, seeing the analogy of how the lessons learned in adolescence mold us into the people we become. And so I hosted a dinner party, to showcase the things I’ve learned in culinary school and, more significantly, to say goodbye to a time that was.

The night started with a last-minute canapé. What else can you do when faced with such gorgeously sweet watermelons at the Greenmarket? A quick Pinterest search revealed a delicious solution: watermelon cubes with a hollowed top, filled with balsamic reduction (1 cup of balsamic + ¼ cup sugar, reduced by a third), and garnished with basil.

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     My mother’s classic 7-Layer Salad

First on the menu: 7-Component Salad. Based on the American classic 7-Layer Salad, I took the elements from the salad specific to my mother’s version—a favorite of my 12 year-old self—and rearranged them into a dish composed of seven elements: baby romaine, pea & celery timbale, bacon lardon, fresh sliced water chestnuts, and parmesan, all crowned with a deviled egg and held together by a mayonnaise-based dressing. To accompany the dish I prepared a cherry-rosé spritzer, complete with a homemade maraschino cherry (adult cherry limeade anyone?). A light and easy way to start the meal, by making this a composed salad, each ingredient was allowed to stand out on the plate. Similarly light, the spritzer didn’t compete with any of the salad’s ingredients and kept the course refreshing.

Next up, soup. A recent conversation with a classmate revealed to me the disparity of feelings toward the green bean. She thought people didn’t like them because they’re so oft overcooked. I feel that people don’t like them because they’re so oft undercooked. I suppose to each his or her own; but, if you want

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Cookin’ up a mess a
beans, circa 1995

some good, Southern green beans you’ll start by caramelizing sweet onions in a cast-iron pan and then braising them, along with the beans, until the liquid has evaporated and the beans are slightly scorched. This method lends the beans an almost grilled flavor. I took this dish a step further by then pureeing the scorched beans with homemade vegetable stock and chilling the resulting soup—after all, I always preferred to eat those beans a day later, straight out of the fridge. The flavor is saturated with green bean unctuousness, a slightly sweet tinge from the onions, spice from copious black pepper and a hint of smokiness from the char. Topped with crunchy, buttery cornbread croutons, the soup is a delectable improvement on such a simple side dish. To pair, Broadbent Vinho Verde. A Portuguese white wine, the nose of citrus is a great complement to the aforementioned unctuousness of the soup and the grassy element pulls out that “green” flavor of the beans. In addition, Vinho Verde’s are infused with a splash of CO2 & the effervescence of the wine lifts the palate out of the deep, creamy soup and washes off the tongue so that you can fully enjoy the next bite.

 The main course of my project was inspired by a true Southern staple: the BBQ platter. While I do enjoy

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Big John’s BBQ Platter: unfortunately, not the original—the new owner got rid of the curly fries!!! At least the BBQ hasn’t changed.

making a faux Memphis pork butt in my NYC apartment, I wanted to create a dish that could stand up to fancier fare, but still lend a similar, satisfying flavor profile. Thus, tangy slaw, baked beans, curly fries and a mess of pulled pork became a pork loin & beer-braised cabbage roulade with cider gastrique, an heirloom bean salad and pommes rissoles, shaped with a melon baller to mimic the curl of those much adored fries of myriad 4th’s of July & uncountable family reunions. The pairing for this course was easy: Unibroue Ephemere Apple, a Canadian white ale brewed with apple must. The nose of this ale gives off a whiff of green apple—a natural pairing with pork—and it has the dry, cleansing sip of a hefeweisen, perfect for a hot summer day and for cutting through the rich porky-tomatoey gastrique.

To finish the meal, a tart. Reminiscent of a particular chain’s strawberry pie, I lifted a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen to create a dessert showcasing my favorite fruit—the one I remember gathering by the bushel—dark, juicy blackberries. While I might have preferred a pâté sucrée for this recipe, I instead made the only crust that could survive a NYC apartment in July, pâté sablée. Like the berries themselves, the pie was both tart and sweet, held together by homemade preserves, just slightly set with

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A tale of two pies: Shoney’s Strawberry is a classic American crust piled high with juicy fresh berries bound by gelatin & cornstarch. My mother’s Lemon Icebox is a “custard” pie set in a graham cracker crust. Two summer staples, millions of memories.

gelatin. As an accompaniment, I made burnt lemon ice cream. The ice cream was meant to invoke another much loved dessert: Lemon Icebox Pie. Made with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, lemon jell-o and fresh lemon juice set in a graham cracker crust, I echoed the pie’s flavor and lightness by first making a caramel of the lemon juice and part of the sugar. Taking this step adds depth to the lemon flavor, but it also evokes the flavor of that graham cracker crust. I then incorporated the dairy and tempered just two egg yolks to add richness but to avoid an ice cream too dense. Left to cure overnight, the next day I whisked in a small amount of gelatin. Meant to prevent any possible iciness, I suppose the gelatin’s main purpose was to pay homage to the dessert’s inspiration. The drink here was a mint julep prepared with a fresh mint tea and Riverboat Rye whiskey. Another light, refreshing drink—with just a bit of tipsy—the bourbon played off the caramel in the ice cream and the toastiness of the pie crust. The mint, of course, provided a new presentation for the much maligned garnish of the dessert plate and kept the refreshment factor flowing.

The evening concluded with toasts of dreams pursued and goals achieved. Memories had snaked their way into conversation and we’d laughed more than once at the expense of our younger selves. But as has been said, “all good things come to an end;” so, once the meal was over and the anecdotes had been told, I hugged my sister as she & her fiancé stepped out the door to head off to their new apartment. This, however, was not an embrace to say goodbye; merely one that said, “Thank you & I’ll see you next weekend.”

Where to now, Bobo?

The day has come. I have graduated from culinary school. Now is the time I should be entertaining various offers from illustrious food purveyors. Weighing the pros and cons of whether I should travel to Thailand or Argentina to get a taste of regional cuisines and broaden my cooking spectrum.

In reality, here I sit. I’m told that this time of year is the worst to get into a restaurant. It makes sense–the less dedicated rush off to visit families for the holidays and the low-guy-on-the-totem-pole sticks around because he has no choice. Thus, remaining both extremely busy and very lonely.

I started cooking school with a very vague idea of where I wanted to go following the 9th month stint. I figured that some revelation would hit as I was butchering and roasting and sauteing and cocotting. Now that I’ve completed my time there and worked two trails (interviews), at restaurants with great reputations, my vague idea has turned into nothing more than a vague notion. I may have learned a few skills but I have no idea how I want to put them to use.

And so, I continue my blog, in hopes that the aforementioned revelation will finally dawn.

An epilogue: I won the award for best menu project. Which is great. The menu project, in essence, was our thesis project: At least 4 courses with beverage pairings, the costing of a single course (meaning what would this sell for in a restaurant), preliminary illustrations and final pictures of finished plates, process shots of one course, an essay on how each course fits into our theme and a brief history of one main ingredient. The school touted all along about how there was a great prize to be won at graduation for the student with the best project. I got a book. A book on technique. Technique that I’d just spent nine months learning. Apparently, it’s the recognition that counts–at least that’s what I’m told.

Anyway, here is my menu, other sections of my project will be posted subsequently.

Because Knowledge is Power…

You probably shouldn’t watch this on a full stomach. If you’re squeamish, that is. Personally the visuals here don’t bother me.

The video below shows the digestive process in two subjects, one who ate Top Ramen, Gatorade & Gummi Bears, the other who ate home-prepared versions of the same meal. Watch it and see why you should be eating whole, minimally processed foods:

Stefani Bardin – Whole Food vs. Processed Food

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Our second essay assignment: the history of a classic kitchen tool.

Upon penning the first draft of this essay, my computer decided some critical updates were in order. Upon downloading update 3 of 3, my computer decided that an endless loop of rebooting and attempting update 3 of 3 would be tons of fun. It’s being checked out.

In the meantime, I rewrote the essay. I started Classic Kitchen Tool redux at approximately 10pm; it was due the next morning at 9am. Luckily, again, it was only a page. And thus–

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

A cast-iron skillet is the cornerstone of any Southern cook’s arsenal. So too can it prove invaluable in the professional kitchen. With its unparalleled ability to hold and evenly disperse heat, a cast-iron skillet could be a perfect vessel for holding a warm sauce (providing it’s not a gastrique—the high level of acidity could create a toxic reaction) or searing a perfect pork chop. And since a cast iron pan can go straight from the stove top into the oven, if you’re working with an extra-thick specimen, a sear and a quick roast is only a few steps away.

Cast-iron has, of course, been used for centuries—from pagodas in China to cannons in the British Navy—although its turn in the American kitchen is relatively new.  Around 513 BCE, the Chinese invented furnaces hot enough to melt iron; prior to this method, pots had either been made of brass or had been beaten into shape. The casting process—pouring molten iron into sand molds—created a product with a smooth surface and a sturdy structure. Strangely, this process didn’t gain favor in the west until 1100 CE when the benefits of cast-iron finally shone upon the people of Medieval England. Eventually a New World would be established—unfortunately it was a world devoid of cast-iron cookery, as the first ironworks didn’t open in America until 1619.

Cast-iron would prove to be an essential tool for early settlers & frontiersmen alike. Indeed, “in their expedition to the Louisiana territory in 1804, Lewis and Clark indicated that their cast iron Dutch oven was one of their most important pieces of equipment,” (Rayment). And while every serious colonial culinarian surely had a cauldron hanging from the hearth or a spider (a large bowl with a tripod of legs) sitting above their cinders, it was later still before the cast-iron skillet would appear. Those had to wait, first, for another invention to take hold: the stove top.

Certainly I can’t leave off a discussion of the cast-iron skillet without addressing its most intrinsic use. Making a cornbread in any vessel that’s not a cast-iron skillet is an exercise in futility. A Pyrex dish or your grandmother’s ceramic soufflé pan simply won’t impart that delicious, crisp crust necessary at any Southern table. And unlike the Pyrex that exploded when you set it in a bit of water, or your grandmother’s dish that cracked while sitting alone, unused in the china cabinet, your trusty cast-iron will only improve with use— undoubtedly an added benefit when you’re making 200 pork chops a night.

Works Referenced

Rayment, W.J. “History of Cast Iron Cookery.” Cast Iron Cooking, 2012. Web. 15 January 2012. http://www.holidaycook.com/cast-iron/

“Shaping History: Vintage Cast-Iron Baking Pans.” Martha Stewart Living, October 2009. Web. 15 January 2012. http://www.marthastewart.com/272109/shaping-history-vintage-cast-iron-baking

“Equipment and Utensils Required for a Functional Kitchen.” The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine. 2007. Print.

“Cast-Iron Cookware” Wikipedia. Web. 15 January 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cast-iron_cookware

Everything I Need to Know I’m Learning a la Minute…

Eventually, you will give in to peer pressure. My suggestion is to simply stop trying to resist it; probably, your peers have a better scope of your life than you do anyway.

And so it is that I have begun a new track: culinary school. For years family and friends have suggested that I look into it, yet I’ve always been hesitant–thinking of cooking as a mere hobby. Now, my hobby has become the thing occupying most of my time. If I’m not practicing the fussy French cuts or attempting a technique demo-ed in class, then I am studying for my upcoming test (tonight!) or writing an essay–something I didn’t expect from culinary school.

A note on essays: one would assume that at the age of 31 the time for computers crashing when one has an essay due the next morning at 9am a thing of the past. Not so.

Thus, this blog could take a turn for the educational. I promise to not bore you with tales of the precise measurements and pronunciations of those aforementioned cuts. I vow not to deride you when you neglect to degorge your bones before neglecting to whip up your own homemade stock. I will see to it that, although I’m being bombarded with every classic French dish that ever was, my readers continue to sail the seas of the adventurous and only use recipes as inspiration points. I will, however, regale you with the dishes I make that are better than anything you’ve ever done. (Hopefully.)

I hope you’ll wish me luck & that you’ll say a prayer that I suffer fewer cuts and burns than my classmates.

Christmas time is here….

…time for joy & cocktails!

You have waited too long to find gifts for everyone on your list. You could take to the interwebs & satisfy your list in a manner completely devoid of the season’s spirit or you could turn your kitchen into an apothecary for the night & prep libations for friends–or just for yourself, after all, you’ll need them when the family shows up next week.

For Festivus gifts this year, I made a few boozed up garnishes: Maraschino Cherries & Vermouth-Spiked Cocktail Onions.

The simplest way to do this is to find some pearl onions and some sour cherries and soak them in liquor for a few days. But, if you want to get fancy, a few spices and herbs can take it to phase 3, peppering your holiday celebration with spicy, herby, warming drinks to satisfy any lush.

If you had thought really far ahead you could’ve gotten sour cherries when they were in season. But you didn’t. Shame. If you have a Trader Joe’s near-by, however, you can pick up a jar of their Morello Cherries in light syrup. If you can’t find those, I suggest getting sweet cherries & adding lemon juice the solution I’ll reveal below.

For my cherries, I toast a handful of slivered almonds with 2 t whole black peppercorns in  a dry pan. Once the almonds have taken on some color & start to waft with aroma, I pour in 2/3 cup of the jarred syrup (use the rest to make cherry limeades!) combined with 1 1/3 cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. If you can’t find Luxardo locally, any Maraschino Liqueur will work, or in a pinch you could use Cherry Brandy. I bring that to a good simmer and then set it aside to steep.

In the meantime, I’ve prepared some canning jars. The ones I used are Quattro Stagioni 5oz, apparently the Ball Jars of Italy. Cute & a little different than a standard American canning jar, they have a great neck with which to tie a ribbon and are available at The Container Store or online (also available in 8.5oz). After sterilizing them, I put in each a sprig of thyme, a ribbon of lemon peel and a half stick of cinnamon. Then, I divide the cherries among each and strain the concoction prepped above over the cherries. If you find that you don’t have enough solution to cover them completely, pour in a little extra liqueur straight. If you want you can then give them a second boil a la proper canning technique. These make a really delicious Manhattan, the cinnamon adding a warm holiday-infused sweetness to every sip.

For the onions, I basically followed this recipe from Saveur, tied each jar with a pretty ribbon and included a recipe for a Dirty Gibson. But after tasting them, I can tell you to make plenty & then use one jar for a quick dinner: simply sear a piece of fish in some olive oil, remove the fish, tent and then pour the contents of one jar in the pan, reduce it and serve with some roasted cauliflower, maybe a squeeze of lemon over the top. Delicious.