Frango Semifreddo

A small frango Semifreddo with a pink plate holding more on the side.

TODAY’S MUSINGS:
Oh, my goodness.  I’m seated at my desk astonished that it has been four months since I’ve practiced my writing exercises,  over three months since I’ve posted on this blog, and well over a month since I’ve attempted writing anything at all.  How has this lag happened?  If only I could blame it on a busy life and blossoming relationship, but those are pathetic excuses.  If I have time to watch Netflix,  I have time to write.  And, full disclosure,  I have plenty of time for Netflix.  So,  what’s the impediment?  Writing for me, alas,  is a lot like my efforts at a consistent gym schedule. It’s good for me; it’s something I need to do, I’m frequently satisfied with the long-term results, but I’m not wholly convinced I actually enjoy the process.  “Write” is on my daily to-do list,  yet the climb from contemplation to commencement is a monumental crag to ascend, necessitating further tenacity when the words on the page fail to satisfy me.  After a hiatus, after putting my pen down for far too long,  the first few visits to my writer’s retreat are a trudge…a snail’s pace on a treadmill while staring at a blank wall.  I want these efforts to be fruitful, expecting to see the contours of my writer’s muscles reflected on the page immediately, yet I often gaze upon flabby dreck even following an entire afternoon’s hard labor.  It takes consistent, focused determination to settle myself and put words on the page without expectation of an inspired outcome.  It takes a few sessions before I’m once again caught in a rhythm of writing and re-writing,  before it becomes part of my day and begins to feel natural, as if I was meant to do this.  If I practice, I will, eventually, produce results.  I will write and write and, in due course, dare to label myself “writer” once more, until, a distraction throws me off  yet again – a vacation, a need to work late, a new interest – and then, before I realize what has happened,  it’s four months later,  the season has changed,  and my writer’s muscles have atrophied again. After yet another hiatus, I will sit astounded in front of the recriminating blank page, admonishing myself for veering so widely from my decided path yet again.

One of my many barriers to writing consistently is the obvious fact that my writing is at its best when I am indignant over some personal affront. When I am passionately righteous in my position,  the words flow from my fingers to the page as if the tap of a deep, dark, underground well has been cranked wide open.  Yet,  I cannot live in a world of perpetual righteous indignation for the sake of writing.  The tap runs dry, the wound scars over,  the damage, if not repaired, is razed for rebuilding.  My obsession over others’ wrongs slowly fades away into “who cares?” and with this diminishing ire, my muse also dissipates. It’s difficult to write when my life is on track. Of course, I can always tap into that faintly festering swamp of ancient hurts and childhood traumas, but it’s not pleasant spending one’s down time perpetually slogging through the mire. 

Writing,  for me, never comes easy. Never.  Even when the words flow,  there is rewriting to be done and, even when the writing is good and I complete a piece, splaying myself on the page,  I hobble from this desk, sore and a bit delirious with stiff joints and cloudy brain, not prepared to reemerge into the world outside my writer’s retreat.  The process is never straightforward for me, and yet it beckons.  So,  after four months away,  I am hunched over my laptop again,  rusty in my attempt to make these words sing, tinkering with each sentence in hopes you can relate to what I’m trying to say.  I’ve renewed my membership, returning to my writer’s gym, gently, tentatively stretching these muscles once again. 

TODAY’S RECIPE:
When choosing desserts,  mint chip is a flavor both Mr. M and I agree on,  so when I decided to whip up a quick dessert a few weeks ago,  I recalled my mom’s iconic recipe for “Frozen Chocolate Frangos.”  These “special occasion” velvety chocolate and mint semi-frozen treats were so decadently rich, wee little Julie couldn’t finish one by herself.  I dug out my mom’s  old recipe and zhuzhed it up just a bit for an adult palate. These semifreddos are the result. NOTE: Semifreddos are made with uncooked eggs.  If this is a concern for you, substitute pasteurized eggs.


Frango Semifreddo

For those who love the combination of refreshing mint and smooth chocolate, these rich, not-too-sweet semi-frozen treats will delight your taste buds. Named after Frango mints, these melt-in-your-mouth treats are a perfect after-dinner dessert.


Ingredients

    Crust and Topping
  • 14 Chocolate wafer cookies (or Oreo cookies)
  • ⅓ cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream, Slightly sweetened and whipped
  • Mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. In a food processor, blitz cookies and toasted walnuts until finely ground. Add melted butter and blitz until crumbs begin to stick together. Reserve 2 Tablespoons of crumbs. Evenly distribute remaining crumbs between 8 lined muffin tins and lightly press into bottom of each liner. I use the bottom of a ¼ cup to help pack the crumbs into the liners.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sifted confectioner’s sugar, and salt until smooth and fluffy. Add melted chocolate and beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and peppermint extract. Beat for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until filling is very light and fluffy.
  3. Pipe filling into each muffin tin until full. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top and freeze until firm, about one hour.
  4. To serve, remove frangos from freezer and let set at room temperature for 10 minutes. Pipe with whipped cream and garnish with mint sprigs if using.

Classic Ice Cream Sandwiches

“Give way to your worst impulse.”

“This is going to be an interesting day,” she muses, followed by, “what IS my worst impulse, anyway?”  She’s acted on a few impulses lately, primarily bad ones, in retrospect.  She’s uneasy imagining where her absolute worst could push her.

Created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975, Oblique Strategies is a technique for cultivating seeds of innovative creativity.  Originally in the form of printed cards, each strategy, like “Give way to your worst impulse,” offers a challenging constraint intended to help artists (particularly musicians) penetrate creative blocks. The cards contain a suggestion, aphorism, or remark which can be used to break dilemmas in creativity. Some are specific to music composition; others are more general, but all can be used to break through any creative dilemma. The cards are now available on an app which she recently downloaded. Strategies include:

  • Disciplined self-indulgence
  • Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame
  • Go slowly all the way round the outside
  • What are you really thinking about just now? Incorporate

Forever struggling with her elusive impetus to write, she is on a continuous lookout for tools to ease her tortured (or non-existent) process.   Downloading the strategies onto her phone, she concluded, in addition to helping her write, would make a great tool for breaking through her quotidian life blocks as well. And so begins her dilemma on surviving a day when her directive is to give way to her worst impulse. 

She would have preferred, “Imagine the art as a set of disconnected events.”  Disconnected – yes – like this introduction and the recipe below.  That’s something she’s extremely familiar with.


Classic Ice Cream Sandwiches

  • Servings: 9 Sandwiches
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Classic chewy oatmeal cookies bookend rounds of vanilla ice cream rolled in mini-chips.


Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 ½ quarts ice cream in a square tub, such as Breyers
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375⁰ F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or Silpat liners. Whisk together flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.
  2. Brown butter by melting in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring and scraping bottom of pan until milk solids are dark golden and butter has a nutty aroma. Stir in cinnamon.
  3. In a large bowl, combine cinnamon butter, sugars, and oil and whisk to combine. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla and whisk until mixture is smooth. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until combined. Add oats and stir until evenly distributed.
  4. Divide dough into 18 portions (I use a small ice cream scoop). Arrange dough balls 2” apart on prepared sheets. Using damp hands, press each ball into a 2 ½-inch disk.
  5. Bake 8-10 minutes until cookie edges are set and centers are still soft, but not wet. Let cookies set on sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Cut cardboard from ice cream and slice into 1” thick slices. Using a 3 ½-inch cookie cutter, cut 2 rounds from each slice, 9 slices total. Sandwich ice cream between two cookies, and roll in mini chocolate chips. Freeze until ready to serve.

*Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Classic Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate peanut butter ice cream

A bowl of Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
I’m celebrating a birthday this week. I remember this time last year, sequestering myself in a remote cabin in Sedona to figure out my life…all of it…over a brief seven days. I didn’t get very far, but I did decide that getting laid off would be a good thing (it was!) and that I needed to rekindle my dreams of inn ownership (I have!) and that “this” (whatever “this” was at the time) wasn’t enough for me (it’s not).

Another year wiser.

My co-worker, Dennis, also has a birthday this week. To celebrate, I made this bittersweet chocolate peanut butter ice-cream. We served scoops of it in crispy waffle cones, although I’ve decided it would even be better sandwiched between giant peanut butter cookies. Gilding the lily once again – some things never get old.


Dennis’s “You’ve got peanut butter in my chocolate” Ice Cream

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop

Ingredients

  • 3 Tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate chopped (at least 60% cocoa), divided (5 oz. & 3 oz.)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine peanut butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt. Pinch off small bits of the peanut butter mixture and arrange on a dinner plate. Freeze plate of peanut butter bits until ready to use.
  2. Warm one cup of the cream with the cocoa powder in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil, whisking the entire time, then remove from heat. Add the 5 oz. chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth. Stir in the remaining 1 cup cream. Set a strainer over the sauce pan and set aside.
  3. Warm the milk, sugar and salt in another medium sauce pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the yolks whisking constantly (to avoid scrambling eggs). Pour the entire mixture back into the sauce pan.
  4. Stir the custard mixture over a medium heat with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners as you stir, until mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon or spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and into the chocolate mixture. Add vanilla, and then cool completely by placing pan in an ice bath.
  5. Cover and chill the mixture in the refrigerator overnight. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. A few minutes before it’s finished, add the 3 oz. reserved chopped chocolate and frozen peanut butter bits.

Thai Tea Gelato

A woman holds a waffle cone of Thai Tea Gelato

This recipe is the inevitable and tasty Venn diagram ensuing from 1) a recent purchase of an entire pound of Thai tea leaves with 2) my continual gelato flavor experimentation – a result of a previous 2013 trip to Italy to indulgently attend Gelato School.


Thai Tea Gelato

  • Servings: 1 ½ quarts
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Please note that measurements are in grams.

Ingredients

  • 500 grams 2% milk
  • 80 grams Pantai Norasingh Thai Tea mix
  • 145 grams sugar
  • 16 grams corn syrup
  • 1 gram salt
  • 38 grams powdered milk
  • 1 gram guar gum
  • 1 gram carob
  • 250 grams heavy whipping cream
  • 2 grams vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Heat milk to 104 degrees. Remove from heat, add Thai tea mix, stir, cover and let steep for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Strain tea leaves, pressing to extract as much flavor as possible. Re-warm milk mixture. At 104 degrees, add sugar, corn syrup and salt. Continue heating and stirring milk mixture. At 144 degrees, add powdered milk mixed well with guar gum and carob. Heat milk to 194 degrees to pasteurize and immediately remove from heat.
  2. Cool milk mixture in ice bath, adding cream and vanilla extract when mixture’s temperature is reduced to 144 degrees. Emulsify with a stick blender. When mixture has cooled to room temperature, pour through a sieve and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Make gelato in ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Savor the flavor of Thai iced tea in creamy gelato form.

Pistachio Gelato

a bowl of homemade pistachio gelato
Ninety-four degrees and not even 11:00 a.m. yet. My walk this morning, more than any other morning this summer, brought to mind summertime memories of my childhood. My family didn’t spend the season at our grandparent’s lakefront cottage. There was no lake. There was no cottage. Our summers were the long days of middle-class suburban kids in Anaheim. Our summers were dusty, scorched, pavement summers. I’d wake up late morning, suffocating from the stifling air of my bedroom – air conditioning was an unnecessary luxury. I’d throw on shorts and a tank top and amble, on summer-calloused bare feet, to a friend’s house. At her home, as sweltering as my own and stocked with grape Otter Pops, we’d make plans to stay cool for the day. None of us had a pool, except one older girl, who doled out invites sparingly, and only to those she deemed worthy (I was rarely worthy). My favorite days were those when we combined funds to buy a bag of water balloons from Hanshaw’s liquor store and compete in boys-against-girls neighborhood balloon fights that always seemed to end with turning the hose on each other. On special summer occasions, like July 4th, my family would hand-churn ice cream in the late afternoon.


Pistachio Gelato

  • Servings: 1 ½ quarts
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Don’t be surprised by the color – the bright green of most pistachio products is from additional coloring. The final color will be brighter green if you take the time to remove the pistachio skins (I did not). Measurements are in grams.

Ingredients

  • 955 grams 2% milk
  • 215 grams sugar
  • 54 grams corn syrup
  • 1 gram salt
  • 33 grams powdered milk
  • 1 gram guar gum
  • 1 gram carob
  • 215 grams shelled pistachios, plus more for garnish (optional)
  • 2 grams vanilla

Directions

  1. Heat milk to 104 degrees. Add sugar, corn syrup and salt. Continue heating and stirring milk mixture until sugar is dissolved. At 144 degrees, add powdered milk mixed well with guar gum and carob. Stir well to incorporate. Heat milk to 194 degrees to pasteurize and immediately remove from heat.
  2. Pulse pistachios in a food processor until chopped (don’t chop them fine). Add a cup of the hot milk mixture and process well.
  3. Add nut mixture from food processor to remaining milk mixture. Cool milk mixture in an ice bath, adding vanilla when mixture’s temperature is reduced to 144 degrees. When mixture has cooled to room temperature, refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next day, strain gelato mixture pressing on the nuts to extract maximum flavor. Make gelato in ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Garnish with additional chopped pistachios if desired.