Saturday, September 27, 2008

Everything's Coming Up Roses (and Cardamom!)

How does hot chocolate with cardamom sound to you? Especially when it is topped with rose-scented whipped cream??? I know, I’m a total hussy for even suggesting it, but this is really too good to keep to myself. I know many of you were probably surprised that my opening recipe of the Kitchen Fiddler blog was not a chocolate one, but I have a very lovely one to share with you tonight, one which provides a nice bridge from yesterday’s post about cardamom-infused coffee.

This recipe is in honor of another cardamom-loving friend, Carol, whose birthday is today. I am smiling to think of how Carol’s face lit up earlier this year when I told her that I was going to make a cardamom truffle as part of my CocoaRoar Spring Truffle Collection, and we had some extremely animated phone conversations this summer over our discovery and thorough giggly enjoyment of the Adirondack Creamery Kulfi-Pistachio Cardamom ice cream.

(If you are a cardamom lover and haven’t tried this ice cream yet, I urge you to track this down as soon as possible. I know that Whole Foods and Fairway carry it, as do both of the Westside Market stores on the Upper West Side, among others. This ice cream is nothing short of delightful and will definitely prompt you to call a good friend and share your cardamom joy. Happy birthday Carol!)

I love hot chocolate infused with various spices, especially cardamom. Cardamom and rose are a gorgeous combination and made even more so when chocolate is added to the equation. Naturally my cardamom hot chocolate begged to be topped with rose-scented whipped cream.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Figs and Sweet Cheeks on the Roof

I found these beautiful ripe figs this afternoon. They were so inviting, so purple and perfect and ready to play. They were practically begging me to take them home and do something fabulous with them.

I thought of slicing them, drizzling them with a little aged balsamic vinegar and calling it a day. I considered broiling them open-faced with a dab of goat cheese on top or wrapping them in prosciutto. But when I found a sweet little speckled dinosaur plum which seemed ready to jump into my basket of its own volition, I decided that what the figs really needed was for me to turn them into a salad of note. And I knew just the perfect recipe was waiting for me in one of my favorite cookbooks, Sunday Suppers At Lucques by Suzanne Goin.

(See, this isn’t JUST a dessert-related blog! Trust me, I have quite a few savory tricks up my sleeves.)

I always think of figs as transitional fruits, creating a bridge between the stone fruits of summer to the apples and pears of autumn. Every year I always pray that cherry season will last just through mid-August so that I can have fresh cherries on my birthday, and sometimes I get lucky. It is always a very sad day for me when I no longer find my beloved cherries at the fruit stands, but figs are a consolation to me as the summer ends. Just when cherries disappear from view, the figs appear in all of their dusky purple splendor, and I always am glad to see them in their little baskets at the markets. They are quite friendly and play well with others, but I think they especially pair nicely with plums and nectarines. And that is just what they did tonight.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In Quest of the Perfect Oatmeal Cookie, Part 2


The Columbus Bakery and their oatmeal raisin cookies may be a thing of the past, and though it still breaks my heart to say that, I must confess that I am really quite happy with my version. I’m definitely willing to share the love with my friends. I’ll even give you the recipe. If you had been anywhere near my apartment today, it would have been just my greatest pleasure to let you sample these little treats while still warm from the oven. I would have even give you a tall glass of cold milk to go with it, because you just can’t have a cookie this good without a tall glass of cold milk to go with it!

Since none of you stopped by this afternoon and I was feeling so compelled to share my oatmeal happiness, I brought two dozen cookies for my fellow musicians at “South Pacific” where I was subbing tonight. I set out the open containers in the green room right before the first act of the show, and I was delighted when the orchestra totally devoured them at intermission. In fact, most of cookies were already gone within the three minutes it took me to get out of the pit and into the green room! (I just love it when that happens.)

After each time I play at “South Pacific”, I have the tunes from the show going through my head incessantly for the rest of the evening. As I started writing this post, I had “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair” alternating with “Some Enchanted Evening” running through my ear. But after eating one (okay, three) of these oatmeal cookies dunked in milk just now, I find myself now humming “A Cockeyed Optimist.” Really, after a cookie like this, how could you NOT be an optimist, at least for a little while??

Sunday, September 21, 2008

In Quest of the Perfect Oatmeal Cookie

This will be a shorter post than yesterday’s, I promise. (I'm excited that I figured out how to add pictures.)

I have just finished making oatmeal raisin cookies at 2 a.m. for the third time this week.

This sudden attention to cookies is slightly strange since they are definitely not my indulgence of choice. I don’t think any of you would be the least bit surprised if I were whipping up a batch of saffron-infused chocolate ganache in the middle of the night. But cookies? And we’re talking about cookies without even a shard of chocolate in them?? Come on. I know I was definitely prompted in part by the July 9 New York Times article on the most perfect "Chocolate Chip Cookies", an article that I strongly urge you to read and act upon directly, if you haven’t already done so. It was an inspiring article, no doubt, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

This late night cookie baking is really about the fact that a huge vacuum was created in my life when the Columbus Bakery shut its doors last year. Without any proper notice, this unceremonious closing deprived me of the greatest oatmeal cookies I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. I know I was not the only one to make significant detours out of my way to procure one of these magical cookies.

They were a beautiful study in textural contrast, crisp on the outside but perfectly chewy inside. In addition to just the right amount of raisins, these were studded with coconut, dried apple pieces and toasted walnuts, taking cookie-making to a whole new level. In other words, this was the cookie of my dreams.

It was a dark day when I discovered that the Columbus Bakery had closed without any advance warning. Since the bakery had refused to part with their secret recipe even upon repeated request over the years, it made their closing all the more painful. But after an appropriate mourning period, I decided that it was my responsibility to all of us to figure out an acceptable recreation of those cookies. I certainly ate enough of them over the years, analyzing my way through each bite, and with all of my middle-of-the-night baking efforts lately, I think I’m getting close.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Time-Travel, Brown Sugar Ice Cream & Gregory Peck

September 17th, Part II, AKA Notes on Time-Travel, Brown Sugar Ice Cream and Gregory Peck

Welcome back to a continuation of the September 17th inaugural post! (Yes, I realize it’s the 19th now, but I began writing this two nights ago after the initial posting.) Many of you know that I attach a lot of significance to dates since the corresponding memories for any given day are very deeply embedded are in my brain. As my birthday falls on the 17th of August, it’s not too surprising that my favorite numbers end in 7, and it felt good to have 9-17 as my official beginning for Kitchen Fiddler.

I was thinking about my previous September 17ths tonight, of which there have been many happy ones, and I found myself thinking a LOT about ice cream. But wait…. Perhaps I should explain the first part of that statement, for those of you who haven’t really played the Louise Memory Game before.

I spend a lot of my mental energy thinking about TIME, especially as it relates to my creative growth and in my relationships with others. I think most people view time as a smooth-flowing continuum, a long line of days steadily unspooling in a forward direction. However, I tend to think of time vertically, whereby a long line of days keeps looping back upon itself with each new year. This creates 365 columns of days, all of which are labeled with an individual date. (I sometimes think of it as a length of chain with 365 different links, each of which represents an individual day of the year, and a new identical length of chain for every new year is layered on top of the previous one to create distinct columns of links/days.) While the individual occurrences within any given column of days seem unrelated at first glance, they are in fact inextricably linked to each other by their common date. Perhaps this vertical view of time is my own personal way of trying to find order in chaos, but the truth is that this strange brain of mine causes me to feel that I am constantly ‘time-traveling’.

In other words, I can take any day and burrow my way down the column of dates through two decades worth of memories. In thinking, “What happened on September 17th last year? Two years ago? Three?” etc., I can vividly recall the events that happened on any of those dates with just as much immediacy as if they had just occurred. Granted, this can be very painful at times. But more often than not, it is a most wonderful gift to be able to vividly relive some of the happiest events of my life. It’s also extremely helpful as it allows me to chart my creative growth over the years with much clarity, being able to take stock of where I once was and where I am now, and I can apply that to developments in friendships and other relationships as well. This memory extends to experiences of all kinds, with particular emphasis on conversations , dialogue and music that I’ve heard. As a violinist, it makes sense that my aural memory would be sharper than my visual recall, but my sense of taste memory is also quite acute. And that finally brings me full circle back to the real subject of today’s post: ICE CREAM!

I have had ice cream on my brain quite a lot lately. These cravings have always been rather insistent, but lately they have intensified to an almost silly degree. Shorter days and cooler weather are signals to most normal people that the leisurely summer days of lazy ice cream cones are over. But while everyone else is gearing up for more typical fall desserts such as apple crisps and pumpkin pies, I am dragging my still-sandaled heels, refusing to accept that fall is here, and my ice cream lust definitely increases in inverse proportion to how cold it is outside. This sense of urgency typically begins to build in mid-September, and I really had to laugh yesterday as I scrolled through multiple September 17ths and noticed a very distinct and decadent ice cream-related thread running throughout this particular collection of days! (This probably does not come as a surprise to any of my friends.)

For instance, there was the monumental discovery on this day in 1992 of Haagen-Dazs Deep Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream with my dear friend Jennifer, my partner-in-crime in all things chocolate. I’d been frantically practicing at school all day, knowing that I’d be sitting in the hot seat at the first orchestra rehearsal of the year that next morning, so after a whole day of cramming the Mendelssohn “Italian” and Shostakovich 10th symphonies, I knew that Haagen-Dazs was absolutely required at the end of the day. I’d always favored Haagen-Dazs’s coffee or vanilla-based ice creams over their chocolate-related flavors, which lacked focus in my opinion. But when Jennifer made a bid for the Deep Chocolate Peanut Butter, I suddenly found that I had a new favorite flavor. It was a revelation in its intensity. This veritable treasure trove of honest-to-God GOBS of frozen peanut butter madness embedded in the softly-chocolate ice cream was the perfect play of salty and sweet, and the entire pint was practically inhaled in one very giggly sitting. Though that was the first of many pints that Jennifer and I devoured together throughout our college years, that 9-17-92 pint of chocolate peanut butter insanity is the one that stands out in memory.

Jennifer and I also had another serious 9-17 chocolate ice cream revelation in 1994, this time of the homemade variety. The New Basics Cookbook was my culinary bible throughout the '90s, and though I’d steadily worked my way through many of the recipes in the book, it wasn’t until 1994 that I had my own ice cream maker and could finally attack some of the in 'The Soda Fountain’ chapter. My maiden voyage was with the Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream recipe, and I must say that it was a rather successful voyage. A single spoonful of the velvety bittersweet custard prompted a frantic phone call on my part, begging Jennifer to come over at the earliest opportunity, and it was a minor miracle that I didn’t devour the entire bowl of velvety chocolate custard myself before I could transfer it into the ice cream maker! (She was happy to oblige.)

Ice cream clearly brings out a decadent streak in me, especially when it’s freshly homemade. I could ply you with many more 9-17 ice cream stories, but I will leave you with the one that’s really making me smile, otherwise known as the Brown Sugar Ice Cream Incident of 1995. It was an abysmally rainy day but I was determined to salvage it by renting “Roman Holiday”, which seemed like a wonderfully indulgent thing to watch on such a wet afternoon. I knew that an equally indulgent ice cream would make the dreariness of the day seem so much less so, and I turned once again to another recipe from The New Basics Cookbook.

I can usually anticipate how a recipe will turn out, but this brown sugar number really threw me for a loop. It was so deceptively simple, an easy and quite traditional custard made of egg yolks, milk and vanilla, with brown sugar standing in for regular granulated sugar. However, once this ice cream base began to freeze in the machine, it received a most welcome addition of tangy sour cream stirred in, which added an undeniable richness while tempering the caramel sass of the brown sugar. Once it had churned in the ice cream maker, the texture was nothing short of luxurious. It was almost shocking how good it was! And though it was perfectly delicious on its own, it seemed to cry out for a generous scattering of toasted almonds over the ice cream, just to provide a little textural contrast. When I took a bite of the ice cream with the almonds, I believe that’s when I began to swoon. Ordinarily I would have called Jennifer to come over and devour the freshly churned ice cream with me, but she was out of town and I was to left to my own devices with a container full of freshly frozen heaven as I settled in to watch “Roman Holiday”.

Two hours and two bowls of ice cream later, my heart felt like it was soaring. Some might say I was having an extreme sugar rush, but I would claim otherwise. I don’t know if it was Gregory Peck’s understated charm and the unbearable loveliness of Audrey Hepburn that inspired me. Maybe it was the beauty of the black&white cinematography, sparking countless daydreams of Rome and adventure. The dreariness of the rain might have prompted my intense yearning for Mediterranean sunshine. Or perhaps it really was the unexpected delight of that crazy ice cream that set me off, as the finished product was so much greater than the sum of its parts, one luscious spoonful after another. All I know is that “Roman Holiday” catapulted its way into my top ten favorite movies that afternoon. When I was paid a surprise visit that evening by a dear friend who bore a distinct resemblance to the very dashing Gregory Peck, I was extremely grateful that I had enough of that gorgeous brown sugar ice cream left over to share, and I found myself behaving rather immoderately. What can I say??

Though I have enjoyed that film many times since 9-17-95, it is impossible for me to watch it without thinking of that oh-so-very-lovely first viewing. And I can’t even say the words “Roman Holiday” without instantly craving Brown Sugar Ice Cream! In fact, I’m craving it right now and may have to go make some myself. I encourage you to do the same, and do be sure to lavishly sprinkle the finished ice cream with toasted slivered almonds. You will thank me, I know.

Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

2 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream

Heat the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Then cover the pan and remove it from the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and brown sugar together in a bowl until thickened. Stir in the vanilla.

Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it has thickened slightly and coats the back of a spoon (do not allow it to boil).

Allow the custard to cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate it, loosely covered, until chilled, a minimum of 3 hours.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions just until it begins to set. Then add the sour cream and continue freezing until it is set. Makes 1 quart.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Let the adventure begin!

Welcome to Kitchen Fiddler! I have toyed with the idea of joining the ever-growing food blog community for quite some time, and I'm thrilled to invite you to join me for tales of culinary delights and musical (mis)adventures, with chocolate-related epiphanies and a bit of time-traveling thrown in for good measure.

Food and music have been the twin passions throughout my life. I began playing the violin when I was 3 years old, and I started helping my mom in the kitchen shortly after that. It's nearly impossible for me to separate these two lifelong enthusiasms, as I can hardly remember a time where the violin wasn't part of my life or that the kitchen wasn't my favorite room in the house. These dual passions have threaded my three decades on the planet, coming together most harmoniously in my life as a violinist in New York City, a place where the musical and culinary possibilities are endless! It is a rich existence, peppered with a variety of great musical experiences and made all the richer by my most beloved and colorful circle of friends who are all carving out a similar creative niche for themselves. In living a kind of musical hodge-podge here in New York, our bond is definitely strengthened by our mutual passion for cooking and eating. Between all of the various orchestral and chamber music concerts, recording sessions and Broadway gigs that we all play here in the city, there is always time for a wonderful meal with friends. Whether it is a feast that we’ve prepared for each other or an exploration of favorite restaurants in town, I think my friends and I would all agree that music and food (especially great music-making and glorious food) simply go hand in hand.

Many of you know that I have been working on my first cookbook for a while now. I am not a formally trained chef but I have been cooking all my life, and I have always derived great pleasure from sharing food with friends and family alike. While my cooking style has definitely evolved over the years, the idee fixe throughout my so-called kitchen career is one of continually striving to create food that is vibrant, bursting with bold joyful flavors, and infused with love. I’m talking about food that is meant to be ENJOYED with friends while lingering over great wine, conversation and laughter. I want my friends to come away from my table feeling well-taken care of and loved, and writing this cookbook is my way of being able to share these dishes that I love so much. This project is very dear to my heart, and after spending this past summer developing recipes and plugging away at the prose, I am happy to report that the cookbook is steadily coming together, slowly but surely taking shape. However, I am impatient and I feel compelled to share some of my favorite creations with all of you NOW, giving you a little preview taste of things to come.

With that in mind, this blog is a natural extension of the countless emails I've sent to my dear friends and family detailing my recent food adventures and kitchen experiments with both photos and words. When I experience something that makes my tastebuds roar with delight, I have a very hard time keeping that to myself! I have my own dishes to share, but I'm also eager to share other favorites recipes from my extensive cookbook collection. I already anticipate stories about post-concert merriment over meals as well as reports on various eating adventures around the city, with or without my sometimes gluttonous cohorts. And there will be chocolate, of course. LOTS of it.

Feel free to stop by here any time and say hello! Cheers!