Homemade Ice Cream

There are some foods that bring you back in time. Maybe it’s a meal you have every year for your birthday or every year at Christmas. I have both of those things– beef stroganoff for the former and spaghetti (followed by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) for the latter. But the most poignant transport in time is homemade ice cream, bringing me back to the Fourth of July. Like the peanut butter balls, this family tradition comes with a lot of griping about what a pain-in-the-rear it is to make. It started with my grandfather back in the 1960s with a hand-crank ice cream machine. My mom remembers having to crank the machine when she was only a few years old–must have been around the same time she had to walk 6 miles to school. About 20 years ago, they switched to an electric machine in what may be the most delayed adoption of progressive technology ever. Either way, the recipe and pain-in-the-rear comments haven’t changed. Switching it up between banana, strawberry, and peach is the extent that we step out of the culinary box. That is, until a few weeks ago.

My sister was throwing us a gender reveal party, and I decided that homemade ice cream would be the perfect way to celebrate. The contents are hidden until right before you eat, so there would be no way to know what “it” was until we served it.
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Truth be told, I couldn’t wait for our strawberry ice cream, as I just knew it was a girl. We had strawberry-banana ice cream a few weeks prior for the Fourth of July, to which I commented, “hmm this is a little too sweet, let’s just do strawberry for the reveal.” We had talked about what to do if it was a boy– peach ice-cream with blue food coloring, but viewed it more as a hypothetical situation in which we would never know the results.
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The day of the reveal came, and it turns out that it wasn’t a hypothetical situation after all. We had BLUE ice cream. WHATTTTTTT?!? Of course my first thoughts were, “is my baby boy going through gender-crisis in utero from me calling him a ‘she’ so often? I know transgender is cool right now, but please just be a boy! Get that testosterone pumping little man. If wine can transfer to his blood, so can protein powder, right?”IMG_4139
Shock aside, we can’t wait for our baby boy to arrive in early December. We can’t wait to find tractors and trucks with him, play golf with him, and dress him in the cutest Jon Jons ever. Most importantly, we can’t wait to serve him homemade ice cream every Fourth of July and create even more traditions together as a family. We love you Baby H!
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Italian Sausage and Pepper Burgers/Sandwiches

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I love sandwiches. My mom hates them. Probably because I made her make me a sandwich every single day of middle school and high school. And I required my sandwiches to be toasted due to the unfortunate fact that I was born with an un-toasted sandwich bread gag reflex. Since high school, I have remarkably learned to make them for myself. And have realized that I never fully appreciated the amount of love it took for my mom to do this for me. Packing lunches (especially sandwiches) is what Michael and I have termed “The Dreaded” in our house.  And sometimes weekends are celebrated soley because we don’t have to do The Dreaded.

 

Naturally, my love for sandwiches has grown exponentially now that I’m pregnant and cannot eat deli meat. #ALLIWANTISASANDWICHDAMMIT.  I’d do The Dreaded on weekends if it meant I could have a sandwich. Even more telling is the fact that my dreams have switched from blue Gatorade waterfalls to quench my drunken thirst to dreams of deli sandwiches.

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So I have resolved to get creative in my sandwich-making. This includes the Italian Sausage and Pepper Burgers from Katie Lee’s Endless Summer cookbook. While technically a burger, I  convinced myself it was a sandwich. I mean, it fits my definition of the quintessential sandwich: a sauce, melted cheese, meat, peppers/onions/pickles, and toasted bread. Also, it deeply troubles me to call anything a burger unless it is on circular bread, and my bread was not circular. Verdict: call it a burger or call it a sandwich but call it amazing.

 

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They were so amazing that I actually had a night of sandwich-less dreams. Instead, I found myself dreaming about a week in Santorini. I told Michael this and he threw away every piece of bread in the house so that I would go back to dreaming of sandwiches. Not the response I had hoped for.

Recipe:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 ounces hot italian sausage (remove casings)
8 ounces sweet italian sausage (remove casings)
8 slices provolone cheese
4 ciabatta rolls, lightly toasted
1/4 cup pesto (gotta use homemade)

pickled banana peppers

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent and the pepper is tender, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.

Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high. Combine both sausages in a bowl. Form into 4 patties. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until cooked through. Top each burger with some of the onions and peppers and two slices of cheese, cover the grill, and cook until the cheese melts. spread the rolls with pesto, add the burgers and banana peppers, and serve immediately.

Charlotte Tip: the best sandwich I have had recently is the Beef Short Rib Baguette from Cafe Monte (with caramelized onions, provolone, and arugula salade).

Speed eating shrimp and grits

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the only problem with shrimp and grits is that they disappear too quickly. in general, i am a fast eater– a fact that i hate but openly admit. if i admit it then it’s not a problem. i try to combat this by chugging glasses of water right before i eat so that i am physically too full to eat fast. most of the time though, i forget to do this and am done before the blessing has started. it is especially bad with casseroles, pasta, grits, soups, etc. basically anything other than massive hunks of meat. i mean, there’s minimal, if any, chewing. what’s the hold up?

As was the case the other night when I made gouda grits with smoky brown butter shrimp from How Sweet It Is. Per usual, Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi took over my body. For those of you that don’t dream about winning Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and staying as skinny as he is on a daily basis, he is a professional speed eater. No dreams are dumb dreams. 

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As a lover of all shrimp and grits, this one was spot on.The crisp corn gave the perfect little crunch and the shrimp provided me the opportunity to not only chew, but to have my mind blown at the flavors. It was the (massive) amounts of gouda mixed into the grits that rendered all efforts to eat slowly useless. I paused once– to think if it was possible to make a quantity large enough to swim in–but other than that, it was go time.

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Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.

Again, taken from How Sweet It Is:

Gouda Grits with Smoky Brown Butter Shrimp

Serves 4

TOTAL TIME: 35 MINUTES

ingredients:

gouda grits
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup quick-cooking grits
8 ounces gouda cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 ears grilled sweet corn, cut from the cob
2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives

shrimp
1 pound raw peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed

directions:

gouda grits
Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, add the grits and whisk constantly until they are fully mixed into the stock, about a minute or two. Reduce the heat to low and cover, stirring once or twice more, until the grits are thicker and creamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese, salt and pepper. Taste and season more if desired – this will depend on the salt in your stock and cheese.

shrimp
Pat the shrimp completely dry with paper towels. Once it’s dry, season it with the salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder and cumin. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter. Once it’s melted and begins to sizzle, add the shrimp in batches (don’t overcrowd it!) and cook on both sides until pink. The butter will brown as the shrimp cooks and you can whisk it occasionally to prevent it from burning. When the shrimp is finished, stir in the garlic (I stir a little in each batche of the shrimp) and cook for a second then place the shrimp on a plate. Repeat.

To serve the grits, spoon them into a bowl and add the shrimp on top. I like to drizzle any of the butter in the pan on top too. Cover with spoonfuls of grilled corn (you can toss it in butter, salt and pepper!) and a sprinkling of chives. Eat immediately.

Conquering the cast iron skillet




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The three words that scare me most in life are not heights, airplanes, and death. rather, they are cast iron skillets. I dream, often, about my great-great-great grandmother’s perfectly-seasoned cast iron skillet that has been passed down from generation to generation. I dream, because this is so far from reality. In fact, I’ve never seen any one in my family use one.

I guess it’s similar in the sense that I want to drink sweet tea all day long–without gaining weight–and eat undercooked bacon and flaky, buttermilk biscuits all day long–without gaining weight. Similar, but not exact. Because 90% of the time, I associate cast iron skillets with  love, family, and greasy goodness. The other 10% is pure fear. Was i beaten with one? Did it join forces with my straightener and catch my house on fire? 
 
My first attempt proved these fears right. It was a Friday night, and we had decided to stay in and cook some steaks on the grill. The problem though, besides not knowing how to grill, was that the propane tank ran out in the middle of the grilling process. Easy fix, I thought. Let me just crank up my culinary-badass notch to high and I’ll sear them on the cast iron skillet. But along with that notch, I also cranked up the stove to high. “It’s all about the sear.” “Make sure the pan is hot enough.” It’s Food Network 101, right? WRONG. Within seconds of putting the steaks down, they turned into the Great Smokies. Smoke billowed out of the pan, up to the ceiling, and straight into the smoke detector. The fire alarm started blaring. Michael started jumping up and down screaming with his hands on his head. I laughed, not knowing what else to do. It just so happens that our smoke detector is at the highest point of our kitchen–probably 18 feet up. Vertically challenged as is, we also don’t own a ladder. So here we were, alarm blaring, Michael buffoon-ing it up in the corner, and me laughing in the other corner. Eventually, after opening every door and window in the house, the alarms subsided. And then, in what turned out to be the planes, trains, and automobiles of cooking, we put the steaks in the oven. And I was told to never use the cast iron skillet again.

I followed that rule…until last night. I had found a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine that I just had to try, so I decided that I was going to conquer my fear once and for all. I had a new confidence, primarily because Michael was still at work, but also because we changed the location of the smoke detector.

The recipe began with cooking the potatoes. I was a little thrown off by the fact that the potatoes were green when i chopped them. Like wtf, was Dr. Seuess writing a sequel, “Green Potatoes and Sausage”. I carried on. But then all the skins started to burn on the bottom. Oh shit. Still, I carried on.
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Next was the peppers and onions. The saving grace. Those babies were cooking perfectly, even loosening some of the stuck potato skins. They were so beautiful that I was sad to add the chicken and sausage, for fear that their beauty would be lessened. But no, they meshed together beautifully like Ken and Barbie.
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*Side note: When a recipe says to sauté chicken, I automatically add about 49 minutes. I swear Harris Teeter hand selects the slowest-cooking damn chickens out there.

Last came the sauce. At this point, I was adding liquid to the skillet, so I knew I was home free. So I popped the biscuits in the oven, poured myself a glass of wine, and basked in the glorious sight of a successful skillet dish.
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Post eating, alas I can say that my fear of the cast iron skillet has been conquered. And I shall prevail in making it the well-seasoned skillet that I can pass on my great-great-great grandchildren. In between that time, here’s to many more “smoke-detectors” going off and fears conquered. Let’s just hope one of us is always laughing.

Spicy Chicken-and-Sausage Hash (from Food & Wine Magazine)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 lb. breakfast sausages, casings removed
One 14.5 oz. can chopped tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
1/2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
Biscuits, for serving

1) In a large cast iron or non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the potatoes and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, 7-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a plate.
2) Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet. Add the onion and the bell peppers, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken and the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and horseradish and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the potatoes until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper and serve with biscuits.

Are you there AAA, it’s me again

Do you know how to change a tire? I do. 1-800-AAA-Help.
And i can sew a button…by taking it to an alterations place.

These embarrassing revelations–and skills lack thereof–lead me to the question: where the f*** was home economics in high school? Hysterical that the tigres-euphrates river system is deemed more important than lug nuts and jacks. Or, the limit of a function as x approaches minus infinity is more important than hemming a pair of pants.

But, since middle-eastern tributaries and asinine derivatives trump life,  my friends and I are talking about starting a grill-camp for guys (patent-pending). How fun would a weekend of learning how to grill with a bunch of friends be? We can even throw in whiskey tastings. Because, every guy should know how to grill. And every guy should know his whiskey.

As luck would have it, he-who-shall-not-be-named in my house can’t grill. We try to have lessons in, you know, putting meat on and flipping it until it appears done, but we just aren’t there yet. Even so, we teamed up a few nights ago to make the most flavorful, easiest chicken by using Carolina Table Salt. Even a Jack-of-no-home-trades could put the rub on the chicken and plop it on the grill. It’s tasty, easy, local, and it can be used on “‘most anything”–from veggies to meat to chex mix.

Can be found at Southern Gent in Charlotte.
It can be found at Southern Gent among other places in Charlotte.

It must be said though, that what he lacks in grill skills he makes up for in whiskey skills. Our latest discovery is Defiant. It’s one of the best we’ve ever tasted, and just like the Carolina table salt, it’s tasty, (goes down) easy, and local. I can’t describe it more than this, for I would be a fraud making up whiskey terms, but I can tell you to pour it over a few ice cubes and voila! you will taste why its winning so many awards.

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So, even though grill camp is, like, the best.idea.ever, i’m still pissed about getting rid of home-ec classes. really, it’s no problem that i don’t know how to iron because i (used to) know the atomic mass of hydrogen. And while learning to cook together is fun,  nothing will ever make it ok to pay $85 dollars to hem a dress. And nothing will ever be ok about wannabe Susie Homemaker stranded on the side of the street with her husband dialing AAA. Let’s just pray he brought the whiskey.

peanut butter balls: a secret recipe

really important question, you guys–why are the seasonal Reese’s peanut butter easter eggs (and christmas trees) so much better than the original reese’s peanut butter cups? they have to use the same ingredients, right? but there’s just no way…it’s like saying the dumpy grey burgers topped with white lettuce you are handed at a fast-food restaraunt are the same as the ones on the commercials.

these Reese’s eggs are so coveted in our house that we had many-a-fights about them growing up. for example, one time i had a party in high school, and though i was verbally berated by my parents for weeks, it was nothing compared my sibling’s ire that some idiot at the party ate the last Reese’s easter egg in the freezer. i seriously thought that we might not speak again until the next easter until the damn eggs came out again. i had to slap myself every time i had the sheepish thought of dear God, you did it once. please resurrect these eggs. 

i tell you all that, only to tell you that the reese’s easter eggs have nothing on my family’s peanut butter ball recipe. unlike Bush’s baked beans–where no one wants to know the secret to those pre-canned barf beans, yet the family feels the need to make it more clandestine than our country’s torture methods–you want to be in on this secret.

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for us, peanut butter balls are more synonymous with christmas than say, “santa” or “pass the wine”. when i think back on christmas pasts, the only visions i have are peanut butter balls at my parents’ christmas party and the under-rated Creepy Crawlers that santa brought me one year.

it’s the crisp bite into the chocolate followed by the creamy peanut butter mixture that scream’s All I want for Christmas is You. they make the Reese’s (and the Pillsbury slice and bake christmas cookies) look like amateurs.

i must warn you though, it’s a multi-day, multi-person process. the past few years, it’s been my mom, my dad, and me. how cute. my mom is the batter maker, microwave operator, freezer/fridge runner, and clean-up crew. my dad alternates between fridge running duties and ball-roller. and i am a ball-roller and the master dipper. 

 

Day 1: Make the batter. Refrigerate overnight.
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Day 2: Roll the peanut butter balls. Refrigerate overnight.

Notes: 1) for once, smaller the better 2) they become very, very sticky at room temp.  they need to be super cold, so keep them in the freezer until you are ready. and only take a small amount out at a time. hence, the official fridge/freezer runners. 3) terse words regarding the size and the stickiness will occur every year–i could hit replay from 2004 and it would be the same conversation we had this year.
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Day 3: dip the peanut butter balls. again, only microwave a little bit of chocolate at a time. Henry Ford would not be impressed by the inefficiency of this recipe, but go with it.

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yes, this recipe takes longer than most, but at the end of the day, it’s more than a recipe–it’s Christmas, it’s family, and it’s memories made together. enjoy–all of them–because they are too good to hide in the freezer for an over-served partygoer to steal.

Recipe

Ingredients:
48 ounces of creamy peanut butter
3 sticks of butter
2 pounds of powered sugar

2 packages of chocolate flavored almond bark

Directions:
1) let butter soften
2) using a mixer, mix peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar
3) refrigerate overnight
4) roll peanut balls
5) refrigerate overnight
6) dip peanut butter balls in the chocolate

5Church & the Magic of Christmas

dinner downtown followed by the christmas symphony has quickly become one of my favorite christmas traditions. it’s festive, it’s delectable, it’s ear(th)-shattering.

it’s also a chance to eat downtown. though I’ve lived in charlotte my whole life, my knowledge of downtown roads and relative locations is probably on par with a drunk in corn maze. for the life of me, i just can’t figure it out. but it doesn’t stop me from entering addresses into uber. this year, we chose 5Church. and as many times as I said, oh my god, after taking a sip or a bite, it’s quite possible i thought i was in an actual church.

first things first. the viper. it was delicious, cool, and refreshing–like if i ordered ten, i’d be hydrated… which is why i ordered two in about ten minutes.
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rather than an app, we went the “snack” route. split, it was just a bite a piece. but it was the perfect bite. the prime meatball slider (michael’s favorite) and the crisp szechuan pork belly (my favorite) left us wanting more long after the plates were cleared.

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mahi-mahi or trout?

funny story about the entree. i was between the wasabi-crusted salmon and the mahi-mahi with hoppin’ john and greens in a ham broth. somehow though, i must have asked the waiter whether he preferred the salmon or the trout. he said “definitely the trout”. so, when I got my plate, i was like hmmm this is odd. these greens seem like kale. and where is the hoppin’ john? and i don’t taste the ham broth. I justified these thoughts by assuming that my mom probably uses more fatback than regulated establishments are allowed to use, and, since there were some black-eyed pea size things around the edge of the plate,  i was all like, this place is fancy. they must have done hoppin’ john all fancy and dried the black eyed peas. so i kept eating…and eating…until literally the last bite… and it finally hit me that I was eating trout. 

curiosity kills my cat’s nine lives daily, so I just had to know if the trout or the mahi was better. after i explained my dumbassness to our waiter, I asked. I assumed he would answer with the trout, since, you know, it was in front of me and i was about to pay for it. instead, he responds “oh, definitely the mahi.” FML. on the positive side, when you order the wrong dish and still think its one of the best you’ve ever had, that’s a pretty good sign.
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on to the symphony. simply put, the Magic of Christmas is one of the most beautiful sounds i’ve ever heard. it makes you feel good, feel hopeful, and feel thankful. hearing Joy to the World, it almost seems as if the whole world will soon feel joy.

but the night wouldn’t be nearly what it is without conductor Albert-George Schram. i. love. Albert-George Schram. no shame. his jokes are hilarious. his dance moves are top notch. and his enthusiasm and love of music and of life are contagious.

so it is my hope that I continue to celebrate the christmas season with such joy and such love. Because, maybe if we all give a little love, it is possible to bring joy to the joyless.