Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for December, 2008
I admire über creative chefs who concoct culinary masterpieces, often from seemingly incongruous ingredients (Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller come to mind). Me? I’m more of a tinkerer. I derive inspiration from others, rarely creating a dish solely of my own design. However, I suppose one could argue original thought no longer exists — we’re all just idea borrowers.
I’ve been doing a lot of tinkering lately, with great success. Inspired by a recipe for baklava with cherries and chocolate, I turned my traditional baklava into a Thanksgiving-worthy delight by adding dried cranberries to the nut mixture and drizzling cranberry-infused syrup on top. Not only did it turn the baklava a rich ruby, it provided a welcome tang to offset the sweetness.
Next up was a sweet strata with panettone, Granny Smith apples, walnuts and cranberries for my monthly “Guinea Pig” gathering. Each month a group of chefs gathers to test out recipes on one another based upon a theme. In keeping with Christmas, we chose red and green food. However, salads were verboten (we had to show more creativity). I originally signed up for a savory dish, but all I could think of was quiche or crépes — both of which I’ve made several times. I then remembered the panettone French toast I prepared for a Christmas brunch last year and decided to give the strata a try. I added a bit of maple syrup to the custard (milk and eggs), tossed it with the cubed panettone, fruit and nuts and baked it for about 45 minutes.
But my greatest achievement? The Elvis ice cream.
When a couple of my friends announced they were preparing a vegetarian meal for our bi-monthly dinner, I thought I’d be funny and try out David Lebovitz’ candied bacon ice cream for dessert (we’re all meat eaters, but apparently they thought a vegetarian meal would be healthier). I bought some thick-sliced Applewood bacon from Whole Foods and followed David’s directions for candying it. No, that’s not entirely true. I overlooked his suggestion to place the bacon on a rack considering American bacon tends to be much fattier than the stuff he gets in Paris. Much of the brown sugar melted off along with the fat. I also left it in too long, resulting in charred sticks of slightly sweet bacon. Mind you, my darling and I still ate it, but it wasn’t good enough to go into the ice cream. I’d have to try again.
Since I had all the ingredients for the custard I started preparing it first thing in the morning to give it plenty of time to chill. As per David’s instructions, I poured half of the half & half in a pan with the butter and sugar, and the rest in a bowl sitting in an ice bath. As I grabbed my ice cube tray out of the freezer I spied my bag of frozen ripe bananas for smoothies. My mind started whirling: bacon and bananas — isn’t that what Elvis liked to eat on his sandwiches? A quick Google search revealed he preferred peanut butter and bananas, but he’d often add bacon as well. I now had my recipe.
I thought about adding dollops of peanut butter to the ice cream toward the end (along with the diced candied bacon and banana bits), but decided to make it a peanut butter ice cream base with the bacon and bananas added in. I stirred in about a half cup of creamy peanut butter to the hot custard until it melted, then whisked that mixture into the half & half in the ice bath. I then let that cool while I went for a run.
As I ran I thought of ways to present the dessert to my friends. I pictured a scoop of ice cream in either a martini or margarita glass, topped with a cookie or sweet wafer to carry out the sandwich theme. But then phyllo came to mind, specifically, large phyllo cups baked in muffin tins. I thought the crisp, buttery phyllo sheets would provide a nice textural contrast to the creamy ice cream. But then it hit me — ice cream sandwiches; duh!
I wanted something rather neutral so the flavors of the ice cream would shine, and I found the perfect foil in butter waffles (they’re basically flat waffle cones). I’ve since tried Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers with equal success (they provide a rich chocolaty flavor without overpowering the ice cream). The true star, of course, is the ice cream.
For my second attempt at candying the bacon, I placed it on a rack and rendered off most of the fat before adding the brown sugar. I also turned the bacon every 4-5 minutes until it was crisp and a deep mahogany. I added both the bacon and the chopped banana at the very end of churning the ice cream (just enough to let it incorporate). After letting the ice cream harden for about a half hour I spread it on the butter waffles and put them back in the freezer until ready to serve.
I loved how each flavor revealed itself. First came the subtle peanut butter, followed by the banana. Then came the smoky bacon with just a hint of saltiness. It was an incredible combination eliciting several “oohs” and “ahs” from my friends.
Of course, just when I was patting my creative bad-ass self on the back I stumbled across two other takes on Elvis ice cream: one with peanut butter, bananas and bacon mixed into chocolate ice cream, and another — from a Seattle ice cream shop, no less — that tops peanut butter and banana ice cream with chocolate-covered bacon.