ice-cream-pie-4.jpg 

In my book, weekends call for special treats.  There are certain desserts—pies, cheesecakes, tarts, and the like—that I simply don’t consider making (or eating) throughout the week.  One major exception: ice cream.   

Hands down my favorite food, I love all its flavors (from vanilla to butter pecan to chocolate to pistachio to …) and incarnations (cones, sundaes, DQ Blizzards, straight from the carton).  And because summer in Chicago can be all too brief, I like to live the ice cream season to the fullest.  Not that I see anything wrong with ice cream in February, mind you.

ice-cream-pie-2.jpg

One of the most wonderful, guilt-reducing discoveries I’ve made in the ice cream realm is Haagen Dazs’ line of extra rich light ice cream.  In particular, I’ve fallen head over heels for the coffee flavor.  It’s creamy with a strong coffee flavor and, did I mention that it’s “light”? 

Pints of this stuff often crowd our freezer and it makes a great (occasional) weeknight treat.  But, on the weekend, like I said, it’s time for special treats.  Recently, I stumbled across a Bon Appetit recipe on Epicurious.com that promised to marry my weeknight favorite with a weekend-worthy dessert: Coffee-Toffee Ice Cream Tart.  And, it was a great excuse to use another as-yet-unused wedding gift: our new tart pan. 

ice-cream-pie-5.jpg

This tart is very, very good.  However, I have a couple quibbles.  After searching the shelves of several grocery stores for chocolate wafers without luck, I gave up and bought Oreos.  My sous chef was happy to twist them apart and scrape the filling from them.  Almost as delighted as he was to bash them into crumbs, once the de-sandwiching was done.  Also, I neglected to read the Epicurious comments until I was already home from the grocery store.  Had I read the multiple suggestions to double the amount of crumbled toffee, I would have happily followed the advice.  As I made it (according to the recipe exactly), the toffee flavor was not all that pronounced.  Finally, I’m really, really glad I read the recipe thoroughly ahead of time.  The multiple freezing stages definitely call for some advance planning. 

Despite these minor stumbles, the end result was scrumptious.  The hint of cinnamon in the crust really lends a depth of flavor.  And the white chocolate topping (about which, I must admit, I was a bit hesitant at first) was a wonderful addition—both in terms of taste and elegant presentation.  Oh, and I used my favorite Haagen Dazs light coffee ice cream for the filling.  Does that mean I can enjoy a leftover slice on a weeknight?!?

Read the rest of this entry »

What a Chicken

November 25, 2007

zuni-1.jpg 

I’m sure that most Americans couldn’t possibly bear the sight of a roasted bird a mere two days after Thanksgiving.  But I didn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner and in fact arrived to my dinner destination after the turkey had already been pulled from the oven.  So, I don’t mind writing about roasted chicken today.  Especially one this spectacular.

When I first started cooking, the thought of trimming the excess fat off a boneless, skinless chicken breast was enough to make my heart thump.  And any red meat?  Forget about it.  While I quickly overcame these fears in my early cooking days, I still couldn’t fathom dealing with an entire chicken.  In fact, I averted my eyes at the butcher’s counter, much preferring the already dismembered parts. So I was shocked when a certain roasted chicken recipe—from San Francisco’s Zuni Café cookbook—began to pique my interest.  At the time, the recipe got a lot of discussion on Chowhound.com’s Home Cooking message board.  The marvels and swooning over this particular recipe finally got to me.  I had to try it. 

The key to this recipe is the pre-salting and the high heat.  Because this was the first roasted chicken recipe I’ve tried, I can’t speak to how it measures up to others.  And this recipe will probably be the last roasted chicken recipe I try because it’s that good.  And because my husband would certainly revolt if I abandoned his beloved bird (which we refer to as simply “Zuni”). 

From the very first time I tried it, the recipe has not disappointed.  Every time, the chicken comes out golden and crisped on the outside, with incredibly flavorful and succulent pieces of chicken.  This is how chicken is meant to taste. I typically surround the chicken with thinly sliced potato rounds, which fry in the chicken drippings—a tip I picked up from one of the Chowhound Zuni faithful.  The potatoes are extremely decadent and I usually can’t justify having more than one or two rounds, but my husband has no problem polishing off hefty mound.  Served with a pile of spicy greens, it is a simply perfect dinner. 

zuni-2.jpg

Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to The Kitchen Sink!

November 24, 2007

 roasted-tomato-soup.jpg 

I’m hardly the first person to believe that the kitchen is the soul of a home—a hub of activity, creation and, of course, sustenance.  Many of my fondest memories have emerged from kitchens—those of friends, family and my own.  I rarely remember the specific features of all those kitchens (aside from my mother’s Le Crueset collection; my mother-in-law’s sprawling, granite-topped island; my friend Andy’s Viking range; my grandparents’ selection of straight-from-the-garden produce, or the sight of my friend Brynn’s refrigerator, brimming with the preparations for her next great BBQ).  But I always seem to remember the kitchen sink. 

Perhaps that’s because I spent the better part of my kitchen days as a dishwasher.  Growing up, washing the dishes was a party not to be missed, complete with singing and dancing (yes, Aunt Kathy, I’m talking about you) amid the steam rising from the scalding water.  In college, dishwashing was more an act of trepidation, sorting through sticky beer mugs and mountains of God-knows-whose dishes (from God-knows-when).  By contrast, the sink in my post-college, tiny D.C. studio apartment, allowed for no more than one plate and one (small) pot to stack up at time; doing the dishes there was simply imperative, unless I wanted to render the kitchen utterly useless.  These days, as my role has evolved from dishwasher to cook, I’ve lucked into a live-in dishwasher.  And after our wedding in August, I’m fairly confident the position is filled for good. 

But I remember more than just soapy sponges and damp dishtowels when it comes to the sinks of my life.  They have ranged from the familiar (my grandparents’ sink, with a view out to their greenhouse, garden, bird feeders and, of course, those up-to-no-good neighbors) to the fancy (here’s where I could brag about the gorgeous undermounted sink in our new condo’s kitchen—but I won’t); from the useless (after nine months in the aforementioned studio, I’m quite sure that a garbage disposal is a kitchen’s most under-appreciated feature) to the utilitarian (the sink in a family cabin in northern Minnesota features a giant red pump for a faucet).  And there’s the sink in my parents’ home—with its funny drinking water spigot, its collection of wine corks atop the backsplash and, for much of the Minnesota winter, snow drifts and frost crystals lining the window. 

In all of these sinks, I’ve piled dishes after satisfying meals.  Sometimes the stack is staggering, leaving me to doubt whether the meal was worth its disaster-zone wake.  But then there are the meals that are worth every single dirty utensil, pot and plate.  Like this recipe—Ina Garten’s Roasted Tomato Basil Soup (dishes for which include: a baking sheet for the roasting, a cutting board and knife for the onions, a dutch oven for the soup itself and a food processor bowl and blade—let alone our own soup bowls).

roasted-tomato-soup-3.jpg

This soup ramps up the classic tomato soup with the addition of oven roasted tomatoes (which lends a concentrated tomato flavor) and earthy herbs.  On a cold early winter night, it certainly satisfies.  For a light, pre-Thanksgiving meal last week, we made this soup (topped with a swirl of pesto) and served it with toasts lathered with a thin layer of ricotta cheese and a drizzle of white truffle oil.  Yes, I’d say it was worth every dirty dish.  I’m pretty sure even my dishwasher would agree! 

  Read the rest of this entry »