Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scattered Thoughts On A Hot Day

My electricity bill for this month is going to hurt. I just know it. How can it not?! After all, our damn AC has been working pretty much non-stop all day and all night long. Even though when I wake up in the morning and set it for 78 or 80 degrees F, it still comes on after an hour or so of silence and the poor thing just keeps slogging along - because the temperature inside our house easily goes above my setting these days. Walking around in my t-shirt and shorts helps, but when internal temps hit the 85 or 90 F mark, well, that's when Ozzy and I give up all pretense of being productive. We're left with no other choice than to flop about in our own sweat (although, cats don't sweat, lucky them), and ideally pass out in the second-coolest part of the house (my bedroom - the coolest is the bathroom, but it's too small for comfort).

Curling up to cool down in my armoire drawer; I'll have to go in there with a lint-remover after he gets done.

The only way to beat the lethargy is to treat ourselves to some home-made ice-cream. Not just any ice-cream, mind you, but rather David Lebovitz's Roasted Banana Ice-Cream. His book, The Perfect Scoop, is on my wish-list (yoo-hoo, DH dahlin', have you seen my cookbook wish-list lately? I have a birthday coming up sweetheart!). Look how easy this recipe is to put together ...

Roasted Banana Ice-Cream (found the original recipe here on The Traveler's Lunchbox)
Yields about 3 cups

Click here for printable recipe

3 medium-sized ripe bananas, peeled
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a 2 quart baking dish with parchment paper.

2. Slice bananas into 2 inch pieces. Toss with butter and brown sugar in the prepared baking dish, and roast in the oven for 30-40 mins till caramelized and tender. Stir only once after the first 20 mins of roasting.

3. Scrape the bananas and the thick caramel syrup into a blender immediately. Add the milk, granulated sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and salt. Puree well till smooth.

4. Chill this mixture for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Whisk once, then pour it into your ice-cream maker, if you're using one, and follow manufacturer's instructions. (or you could freeze it in a container, using an immersion blender every 2 hours on it, to make sure it freezes smoothly)
Verdict: What is it about combining caramelized bananas with ice-cream that just elevates the whole thing to a superior level?! Don't answer that, it's a rhetorical question. All I know is that this ice-cream does not suffer from the lack of cream or custard base. It is smooth and luscious and just the ticket on a hot day. But you can easily make this all year long - use it in sundaes, to top off pies, crepes, make ice-cream sandwiches for the kids (or the kid in you), and so on. Eat this with vanilla or chocolate wafers, or better yet, mix some chopped nuts and chocolate chips right into it. I think I might drizzle mine with some dulce de leche (hot damn, that just came to me!). We still have some left over, and DH has to to pry the bowl away from my clawing hands to get at this - it's definitely his current favorite ice-cream too. Won't you make it yours?

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Middle Eastern Frame Of Mind

Sometimes I think that we human beings are difficult at best. Here in the US Northeast, first we complain about not having enough summer, then when the heat really hits us, we complain about that too. Take for instance, yours truly. In my home, DH and I are on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to weather - he being a cold climate supporter and expressing an overall disdain for bright, hot, sunny days, while I preach the reverse. However, in the last few days I've had to bite my own tongue, because it truly has been too hot. Sizzling hot. Brain-scrambling hot. Render-you-senseless hot. Or in other words, almost as hot as a summer's day in the Middle East. Yes, I would know, because I did grow up there (and loved it).

But the years I've spent in the US and Canada have softened me up. The last few days of 90+ degrees temps have reduced me to a puddle of sweat as soon as I step outdoors. One of my neighboring towns had their Annual Oyster Festival this past weekend, and I was so excited about it. I'd even managed to convince DH to come along, but in the end, it was my sorry ass that he had to drag around, because I was so completely beaten down by the heat, that even the mere idea of having fried oysters was repulsive to me! And I don't think I was the only one - most of the people at the festival seemed happy enough just to collapse in the shade with a cone of shaved Italian ice. I would prefer to dunk my head in it, honestly.

So since the weather helped remind me of my years in Dubai, I thought I'd pay a humble tribute to it through food. I've been enjoying some cold, home-made hummus (recipe coming soon) and minted iced tea, but I think this Middle Eastern dessert recipe is the first one I'll share with you. It's a bit like bread pudding, but much lighter and easier to throw together. I got the recipe from Mercedes' blog Desert Candy (I love that title!) - she's got some amazing foodie gems on her site, and it's heart-warming to come across an American who loves the Middle East like I do!

Umm-e-Ali (pronounced 'oomay ali') Original recipe found here.
Serves 6

Click here for printable recipe

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/3 cup mixed fruits and nuts (such as raisins, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, pine nuts)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4-1/3 cup sugar
slivered almonds and pistachios for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Spread pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes until puffed and golden. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Turn off heat and let sit while you proceed with the next step.

3. Raise oven heat to 475F. Grease a baking dish, crumble/tear apart the pastry and scatter in the baking dish. Scatter the dried fruit and nuts over the dish. Pour the milk/cream mixture over the dish. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden on top and set. Let cool somewhat before serving.

4. Lightly toast almonds and pistachios and scatter over top before serving.

Verdict: Subtly sweet, light yet custardy, with layers of smooth velvet interspersed with the crunchy nuts. I'm going to make it in a smaller baking dish next time, so that the layers are deeper. But overall, this dessert is a keeper because of its unique taste and ease. I know that when it comes to bread pudding, people either love it or hate it. For those in the former category, I encourage you to try this out because it's not as dense and eggy as regular bread pudding, and you almost feel like you're eating something healthy, thanks to all those dried fruits and nuts! (of course, my favorite parts are the buttery puff pastry and oodles of milk and cream, tee hee)

While we're on the subject of the Middle East, yesterday I was watching this rather well-made documentary on CNN (surprising, I know), hosted by the charismatic Christiane Amanpour, called "Generation Islam". I know I don't usually talk politics on my blog (because bringing people together over good food is my mantra), it was really very touching. And although there were a few instances where I was weeping like a baby (it's not easy viewing, because it focuses on children), it did have a semi-hopeful message, and showed how people are just as capable of kindness and generosity of spirit as they are of senseless violence. For once, it felt like something close to unbiased was coming out of CNN. Ms. Amanpour herself says that "The lack of foreign news on American television is unconscionable", and I agree. So I recommend this 2-hour documentary to you all. 'Nuff said - back to food next time!