Thursday, July 18, 2024

House of the Rising Sun/Le Pénitencier (The Penitentiary)

    I'm really not sure how it happened, but my daughter introduced a new obsession to me: The song House of the Rising Sun.  I mean, what even is a "house of the rising sun"? I would guess it's some sort of euphemism, but for what?

    She first noticed the phrase in the song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (lyrics): 


    It's a great song about a fiddle duel between Johnny and the Devil.  If Johnny wins, he gets to keep his soul, and the Devil's golden hell-fiddle, but if Satan wins, he gets Johnny's soul (if you ask me, Johnny has more to lose).  Anyway, it was the chorus that caught my daughter's attention:

"Fire on the Mountain." Run, boys, run!
The Devil's in the house of the rising sun;
Chicken in the bread pan picking out dough.
Granny, does your dog bite? No, child, no. 

    She knew the song "House of the Rising Sun" -- which is about a life gone wrong in New Orleans -- the most famous version of which was released in 1964 by the British band The Animals (lyrics below):

    This version of the song has been covered by just about everyone (Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, my beloved Joan Baez, Sinead O'Connor and many more modern bands as well). A group called Five Finger Death Punch released a particularly gravelly version in 2014. There are many others.

    What's funny, is that there is little consensus about what the House of the Rising Sun even is. It might be a brothel, a pub, a prison, a hotel, or even a hospital (for more possible real-life locations in New Orleans, see the Wiki article).  Since it mentions the city in Louisiana, that suggests it's a specifically American folk song (there is evidence that it was sung as early as 1905 by American coal miners in Appalachia), but it seems to have roots from long before that, based on much older ballads from England that also use similar phrasing.  

    But one folklorist has proposed a connection to France: the sunburst/rising sun motif was used as a decorative element in France, dating from the time of Louis XIV, who was also known as the "Sun King" (he styled himself after Apollo). The motif was brought to America in the early 1700s by early French colonists. That makes some amount of sense, given the historically strong French presence in New Orleans. Could the real-life building have had something like this decorating it?


   The song was translated from English into French (and many other languages as well), and the singer Johnny Hallyday released a popular version in France in 1964 called "Le Pénitencier / The Prison" (lyrics below):

    The tune is identical, but the lyrics are not a direct translation, though they are thematically very similar:

Original English lyrics
French lyrics / English Translation of French lyrics 
There is a house in New Orleans
Les portes du pénitencier / The jail's doors
They call the Rising Sun
bientôt vont se fermer / Will shut soon
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
et c’est là que je finirai ma vie / And that's where I end my life,
And God, I know I'm one
comme d’autres gars l’ont finie / Like lots of other men did 

 

My mother was a tailor
Pour moi ma mère a donné / For me, my mother has given away
She sewed my new blue jeans
sa robe de mariée / Her wedding dress
My father was a gamblin' man
Peux-tu jamais me pardonner? / May you ever forgive me?
Down in New Orleans
Je t’ai trop fait pleurer / I made you cry so many times already.

 

Now the only thing a gambler needs
Le soleil n’est pas fait pour nous / The sun isn't made for us
Is a suitcase and trunk
c’est la nuit qu’on peut tricher / (Because) we can cheat only during the night
And the only time he'll be satisfied
Toi qui ce soir a tout perdu / You, who lost everything this evening
Is when he's all drunk
demain tu peux gagner / Tomorrow you can win

 

Oh, mother, tell your children
Ô mères, écoutez-moi / Oh mothers, please hear me
Not to do what I have done
Ne laissez jamais vos garçons / Don't you let your boys
Spend your lives in sin and misery
seuls la nuit traîner dans les rues / Astray at night in the streets
In the House of the Rising Sun
ils iront tout droit en prison / Because they'll end up in jail

 

Well, I got one foot on the platform
Toi, la fille qui m’a aimé / You, my girl who loved me so
The other foot on the train
je t’ai trop fait pleurer / I've made you cry so much already 
I'm goin' back to New Orleans
Les larmes de honte que tu as versées / Those shameful tears you shed
To wear that ball and chain
il faut les oublier / Should be forgotten

 

Well, there is a house in New Orleans
Les portes du pénitencier / The jail's doors
They call the Rising Sun
bientôt vont se fermer / Will shut soon
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
et c’est là que je finirai ma vie / And that's where I end my life
And God, I know I'm one
comme d’autres gars l’ont finie / Like lots of other men did.

    Both versions are about regrets and the hope that your loved ones don't make the same mistakes, a wish for a better life for one's children.  And as I look at the lyrics, I can't help but be reminded of the song, "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys (lyrics):


    I suppose the theme of wanting more for your children, of having regrets for a life not-so-well-lived, is universal across languages, cultures, and even musical genres.  

Monday, July 15, 2024

Four Generations of Writers

    There's an old joke about the rivalry between writers and scientists:

Writer: "Scientists don't know how to write."

Scientist: "Oh, yeah? Well, writers don't know how to think."

     My grandfather seems to have been one of those who could do both.  A petroleum engineer recently told me a funny story - he had recently taken a casing design class from Phil Patillo, who passed out a copy of my grandfather's paper to his students.  He told the class, "when given the choice of what to take with you to a deserted island, Arthur Lubinki's 1962 paper, Helical Buckling of Tubing Sealed in Packers or an attractive movie star ... always chose the paper.  The movie star will age, but the paper will always be beautiful."

    Not being an engineer myself, I'm really not in a position to judge the beauty of that paper, but he always was a good writer, mixing the clarity of his scientific mind with a hint of poetry, bringing his experiences to life.  Consider his description of the Nazi invasion of Western Europe on May 10, 1941, written in his third language prior to being fluent, when he was just practicing the language:

    “What it is?—What is the matter?„ I asked myself half awakened in my bed. A canonnade was heard outside. And suddenly a sorrowful widespread sound of sirenes came to me. The sound was increasing during a few seconds and afterward it was fading to begin presently once more. Every one can understand its dreadful meaning. Alarm! The birds of death are flying over the capital!

    “Is the war there?„ I asked myself anxiously. — “Oh no! „ — Still I was fool enough to hope it was not true “Perhaps a squadron of R.A.F. is coming back from Germany and the Belgian army is shooting in a neutral manner that is to say in trying to do no harm„.

    I got on as swiftly as I can. Five minutes later I was in the street

    In spite of the early time it was already certain that the weather will be fine. There was not a cloud in the sky. The sun rised a few minutes before and its feable beams were awaking the earth to live.

    I looked up, but could not discerne at once the airplanes. However I was hearing de roar of their motors, somewhere far up. And suddenly a whiz tore the air. It lasted not long, a few seconds perhaps. I looked eagerly and perceived four or five meters farther, in the middle of the pavement, a thing beaming like a piece of hot steel which just left a forge to be hammered by a blacksmith. Of cylindric shape, its diameter might have been of 6 centimeters and its length of 30. At one end was fasten a fixed steel helix. A hundred meters further another thing like this one fell and a neighbour was pouring a bucket of water on it. But instead of extinguish it, big flames flashed from it.

    Now it was not possible to doubt any more. Incendiary bombs were pouring down on the town. The war burst on this happy little country.

    There are some minor spelling and grammatical errors, and he uses an older European punctuation style, but his writing was clearer and contains fewer errors than many writing in their first language. I am in awe of it.

    Grandpa's oldest daughter, Lillian Lubinski McCullar was also a gifted writer.  Her writing, as a junior high student in the 1950s far outstripped the best of my students when I was teaching high school English. Hell, she wrote better than I did when I was her age. Here's how the 13-year-old Lilly described immigrating to the United States as an almost seven-year-old:

     We left London on February seventh on a huge trans-atlantic Constellation plane. After a pleasant but short two hour flight the plane was obliged to land in a small Irish town because of bad weather. We spent the night there and took off the next morning. Our next stop was to be none other than New York City.  We had a very pleasant flight until the time when the lights of New York could be seen in the distance. It was then that I began to feel sick, I had a headache, a backache, and worse still an ear ache. The stewardess tried to put drops in my ears to stop the ache but I guess I just didn’t understand because I wouldn’t even let her come near me with that horrid medicine, so I suffered, and I might add not in silence, until we landed.

And here's how her 15-year-old self described her birth:

     May tenth nineteen forty is a dramatic day, embedded forever in the perpetual history of Belgium. It was on this memorable day that the impossible happened. The Germans invaded Belgium. This day marked the beginning of a period when war, with its destruction and heartbreak was the prevailing factor which cruelly ruled every individual's existence.

     Two days previous to this attack a daughter had been born to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Lubinski. She put in her first appearance in a quiet and dignified private clinic in a suburban district of Brussels. Under these unusual circumstances the story of my life began. I was named Lillian and I may never boast of a middle name. My parents obtained my name from no particular source nor does it have an interesting story behind it. My name seems to be the only uncomplicated item in my early life.

    I also love this description of herself, written with self-deprecating humor and honesty:

    Have you ever wondered how far back you can actually remember? I have. After much thought I believe that I have reached a factual circumstance which I can recall today. I remember two of my many revolting hobbies. The first was finding, imprisoning and later torturing huge snails. The second and more worthwhile hobby was raising rabbits. On a warm afternoon while I was walking through the sunlit fields behind our house, gathering various plants to feed my nine rabbits, I heard a terrible explosion nearby. Upon arriving home in hysterics I was told that a bomb had been dropped a few miles away. We quickly sought shelter underground and before long the attack was over with no harm done in our immediate vicinity.

    I myself became a writer, getting a BA in English Writing and an MA in English Education and taught English to high school students, but it was later that I found my true talent was in technical writing.  I once had a boss describe the SOPs I wrote describing how to perform temperature checks in trucks transporting frozen foods (I was working as a contractor for Schwan Foods at the time) as the best in the industry, which made me feel really good.  That said, technical writing is the bastard stepchild to the kind of writing I value most, so I continue to hone my creative writing skills.  

    And finally, Arthur's oldest great-granddaughter (my daughter Kivi) is also a talented writer.  In high school, she was selected to be an alternate for the Teen Artist in Residence at Isle Royal National Park, and won a county-wide essay contest, and she just graduated cum laude with a BFA in Creative Writing.  

    As much as I wish I'd also inherited my grandfather's scientific skill, I'm grateful that I seem to have inherited his ability to write, and that I passed it on to the next generation.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

1935-1941: Grandpa Arthur Turns Coal into Liquid Fuel

 After he immigrated to the US, Grandpa Arthur became an accomplished petroleum engineer. But before that, he had several different jobs:

  • Engineer working on Coal Liquefaction Technology (CTL), a process where coal is converted to synthetic liquid fuels that can be used in motorcars.
  • Foreman at a manufacturing plant that made defensive war materiel, galvanized tanks, and davits (specialized cranes that get lifeboats into the water when a ship is listing).
  • Farmhand - after he and his family escaped to France during the war, he deliberately settled in an agricultural region close to food sources. He worked as a farmworker and accepted food as payment for his work.  
  • Structural engineer working for the French government, helping to rebuild the war-torn country.

Click to enlarge.
Coal Liquefaction Technology
Source: http://www.biofuelsacademy.org/



    It makes sense that he worked on CTL. Europe is coal-rich and petroleum-poor, and fuel was essential to all nations, and Belgium was no exception. He probably began working on the technology when he graduated with his engineering degree in 1935.  Germany was also very interested in CTL and it was an important part of Germany's wartime planning and economy in the 1930s and 1940s, and it continued to be important to the Nazi regime after the occupation of Western Europe began.  In the fall of 1941 my grandparents and Aunt Lilly escaped from Belgium to Southern France (when he started working as farmhand), so he must have stopped working on CTL by that point.
   
    I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect he stopped working to improve CTL technology before that, perhaps as early as the Nazi invasion of Belgium in the spring of 1940.  He wouldn't have wanted to help improve Hitler's access to fuel sources (Germany was producing 124K barrels of the stuff per day at the height of production, and it accounted for over 90% of fuel used by the Luftwaffe, and 50% of the automobile fuel in Germany).  Arguably, it was the Allied bombing of synthetic fuel plants that ended the war.  

    The fact that it was used primarily as aviation fuel by the Germans is another link to my grandfather - someone in his division at the factory where he was a foreman was sabotaging the galvanized aviation fuel tanks, by putting abrasive powders into the tanks after inspection, but before shipping, in the hopes that the abrasives could damage Luftwaffe engines.  Grandpa Arthur was certain the Gestapo suspected he was the culprit, or at least that he was involved. He wasn't, but he knew about it (I suppose turning a blind eye does indicate some level of involvement), and escaping when he did likely meant he was blamed in absentia, buying the real saboteurs some time.

    Funny story - General Patton, in his rush toward Germany toward the end of WW2, overextended his supply lines and ran out of fuel. Rather than wait until fuel was brought to him, he decided to siphon fuel from German cars and Panzer tanks and used that in his armored division, and it worked just fine.

    CTL isn't just a thing of the past - it is still being studied in the US, because we are rich in both oil and coal, and someday the oil may run out (the coal might as well, but that's another topic).

Links:

Saturday, July 13, 2024

1947-1996: The Oilman

    I haven't written much about my grandfather's life after they immigrated to the US. (TLDR: he became a well-known petroleum engineer).  

Arthur Lubinski (2nd from right), somewhere in the
American Southwest on a drilling platform.
Late 1940s or early 1950s (based on the car in the background).

    After graduating with his engineering degree in Belgium, Arthur worked for a number of years as the foreman at a manufacturing plant, overseeing 150 workers. Among other things, they manufactured defensive munitions such as tank traps, galvanized items, fuel tanks, and davits (a specialized crane used to get lifeboats into the water when a ship is listing).  He also worked on a fuel technology called "coal liquefaction," which essentially created a synthetic fuel from coal. Eastern Europe is rich in coal and not oil, so it was an essential fuel source for running everything from motorcars to panzer tanks.  When the Nazis occupied Belgium, I think he mostly stopped working on CLT, having no wish to benefit the occupiers.  

    Once Belgium became unsafe for him, he and my grandmother escaped to France, where he worked as a farmhand during the war. After the war, he worked for the French government, putting his engineering skills to work helping to rebuild the war-torn country, and he was offered French citizenship (a rare honor) both for fighting in the Maquis and then his efforts toward reconstruction. Still, he wasn't working in a field that interested him or that took full advantage of his education and training, so in 1947, he immigrated to the United States, where he settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his brother-in-law was already working in the petroleum industry.

    The Lubinskis' first few years were difficult. They came here with two suitcases, two daughters, and the equivalent of three months' salary, so while they weren't broke, they had little money. Initially, they lived with my grandmother's brother, but the little house was quite cramped with four additional people, so they found their own place to live as soon as they could.  

    Grandpa's first job was driving from oil well to oil well, doing inspections, and reporting back what was needed. It also put him face-to-face with the actual workers who had hands-on experience, something he found valuable. However, that took him away from his family for weeks at a time, something he wasn't happy with. He also participated in a weekly lunch/think tank with his brother-in-law, where they bounced around ideas for technological advancement. Eventually, he wrote a paper, which led to better jobs closer to home, something he was grateful for, as his youngest daughter was born in Tulsa in 1949. 

    He, my grandmother, and their two older daughters (including my mom) became citizens in 1952, and by 1955 or so, they had attained enough success that they could afford to stop renting, and build a house in Tulsa.  I suppose they lived the American Dream. While it's true that they came here with very little, and did manage to succeed, Grandpa didn't come here with nothing.  He had that rare combination of valuable skills, education, genius, and drive. He had also started over from nothing once before (when they escaped Belgium with just what he could carry) and he knew he could do it again.

    By the time I woke up, he had retired but worked out of his home as an independent contractor (he was ahead of his time, working remotely decades before it was even called that). He flew to Houston every month to turn over his work. By his late 70s, he decided he was too old to continue the monthly trips, so he told his employers that he was happy to keep working for them, but they needed to send his colleagues to Tulsa to meet with him, and they did.  By the time he died in 1996, he had several patents, and many would say he revolutionized the industry. 

Here are a few links for further reading:

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Six Decades of Bickering

Calvary Cemetery, Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States.
Photo by S.M.

    As I've researched my grandparents' experiences in WW2, I can't help but think about their marriage, which spanned almost 62 years. Much of it includes things that you might expect even today—they were childhood sweethearts, they eloped to city hall, they raised three daughters together, and they are buried next to each other in a cemetery in Tulsa.  

    But there are other aspects that I have difficulty imagining; they escaped genocide and were forced to hide for years until it was safe for them to exist again, and then they had to (somehow) move on from the murder of most of their family. They also survived the loss of their oldest daughter, who died at age 34 from a particularly nasty form of multiple sclerosis. I can't (and don't want to) imagine the pain they must have felt.

    Despite my years of research, all the family stories, and even my own memories of them, I really don't get their marriage. They bickered and yelled constantly, didn't share a bed so far as I can remember, and usually didn’t even seem like friends. Yet, as far as I can tell, they hated being apart.  

    When I was a child, fighting at my Tulsa family’s dinner table was a given. Once, when I was about eight or nine, my mother got so sick of the shouting that she walked out of a family dinner, much to everyone’s surprise. I gleefully followed her (marching away from the dinner table felt wonderfully transgressive), though I didn't understand at the time that Mom had gotten used to the more peaceful atmosphere of the WASP family she'd married into and no longer wanted to participate in the spirited debate she'd grown up with.

    Fighting with a lover isn't something I really understand. I married my best friend 27 years ago, and like me, he has a temper. But we figured out early on that when someone lashes out, they inflict wounds that may never heal, and we learned to head off fights before they gathered steam. We do work through our problems — just not when our blood is up. 

    I know that my own parents also dealt with their share of marital troubles, even some serious ones, but they had worked through the worst of them when I was a very small child, and my memories of the rough patches are little more than fuzzy, incomplete vignettes.  Mom and Dad had 46 years together before Dad died, and I think their marriage was better than most.

    My grandparents though... they bickered all the time.  And it wasn't always just snips and snaps - sometimes their conflicts escalated to shouting matches. My uncle once told me about a particularly bad fight – Grandpa and Grandma were returning from a trip to Europe in the early 1970s, and they'd been fighting more than usual during their travels. When they landed back in NYC, they dropped in to see their oldest daughter and son-in-law who lived in Manhattan. I think my younger aunt was also there as she was attending college in the northeast. Anyway, something set Grandpa and Grandma off, and their yelling got so bad my grandfather fled to a separate hotel to sleep and cool down.  The next morning, when he arrived back at the apartment to retrieve his wife, their children staged an intervention of sorts to gently suggest that if their elders were fighting so much, perhaps they should consider separating or even ... divorcing.  

    After a moment of shock, Grandpa and Grandma instantly stopped fighting and became a united front against their children, enraged that they would suggest such a thing.  They told their daughters to butt out, and Uncle Jim said they acted like best buddies — as if the fight had never happened.

    Bickering isn’t the only thing I disliked about my grandparents’ marriage. Grandma gave as good as she got in fights, but their marriage wasn’t really an equal partnership. I know I’m wearing 21st-century-colored glasses here, but Grandpa was definitely the head of the family and sometimes acted in a paternalistic manner towards his wife.  

    For example, Grandpa once censored my grandmother's news intake. I doubt he made a habit of it or anything, but it still shocks me a little.  But when they immigrated in 1947, they flew from London to NYC. Grandma had never been on a plane before and was just terrified. So, for the two months between purchasing their tickets and actually boarding the plane at the newly-built Heathrow, Grandpa poured through the newspapers before Grandma could get to them, and removed any article that mentioned any sort of air travel accident.  I think he feared that if she found out about a crash, she'd refuse to get on the plane. I also suspect he also wanted to alleviate her terror as best he could. It was absolutely a kindness and also relatively benign, but I'd be nonplussed if I found out my husband was censoring my news intake.  

    Grandpa also made at least one serious health decision for Grandma back in the mid-1960s. She found a lump in her breast, went in for a biopsy, and woke up with no breast.  The doctors discovered the lump was malignant, and Grandpa authorized a radical mastectomy before she even came out of anesthesia.  She was mentally competent; doctors in those days just assumed it was his right to decide for her, and so he did.  Grandma didn’t seem to hold it against him and almost certainly would have made the same decision.  She mostly talked about how much pain she was in when she woke up and ended her story with, "he was scared to lose me."  

    I was a teen when she told me about her mastectomy, and even then, I knew I would never allow someone to make that decision for me. It's my damn breast; if I ever develop cancer, I will decide to have it removed or not. 

    Not everything about their marriage was bad—Grandpa also doted on Grandma, and Mom says he was devoted to her until the day he died. He was the first person in their neighborhood to install central air conditioning because Grandma hated the Tulsa summer heat. Because of that, their neighbors assumed they must be rich.  My grandparents had indeed clawed their way out of the serious poverty they'd endured when they first immigrated to the US, but they were far from wealthy at that point. Grandpa simply valued his wife's comfort over the many smaller luxuries others enjoyed. They got AC instead of TV, new clothes, movie tickets, or a fancier car. Even as their wealth increased, they continued to live frugally for a long time -- the deprivations of World War 2 made them very cautious.

    Toward the end of his life, when he was very frail from diabetes and heart disease, Grandpa told my mom that he hoped more than anything that my grandmother would die first.  It arose from an odd oxymoron of unselfish love for his wife – he didn't want Grandma to feel the pain of his loss – and the desire to rest without having to worry that she was properly cared for.  My aunt later told me that his doctors were shocked at how hard he held on before his body finally gave out.  Dying forced him to entrust the care of his wife to his daughters.  

    Grandma lived another three years without him. We once mentioned to her that they'd been married for 60 years. "Almost sixty-two years," she corrected us sadly.  Her memory had been damaged by lack of oxygen from a mitral valve failure years earlier, and she forgot calling us 10 minutes ago, but she remembered the pain of his loss.

    In the end, I suppose I don't need to understand their relationship. I didn’t like their bickering, nor the paternalism that crept into their partnership, but it somehow worked for them. Their marriage was woven from conflict and love and hand-in-hand survival of all the shit that life threw at them.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: David Lebovitz's Fresh Mint Ice Cream

"Fresh Mint Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

  • The online recipe can be found here
  • My other ice cream reviews can be found here.


Mint bed in mid-May (top), and early July (bottom).

I started a mint bed in the spring, in order to make one of life's great joy's: fresh mint ice cream. The mint bed was finally established enough for me to feel comfortable harvesting some of it for ice cream.  I had intended to make Jeni's Backyard Mint recipe today (my family's all-time favorite ice creams), but I was out of cream cheese, so trying a new recipe instead. Most mint recipes don't include eggs, but this one does, so I'm curious to see how it turns out - do the yolks overshadow the mint? (no, it was quite tasty).

Note: The online recipe, the ebook recipe and the older edition of the paper book don't match on the mint.

  • Online: 2 cups (80g) packed fresh mint leaves
  • eBook: 2 cups (80g) lightly packed fresh mint leaves
  • Paper (older edition): 2 cups (40g) lightly packed fresh mint leaves.
Eighty grams of mint leaves without stems is a LOT.  You certainly can fit that much into two cups, but it's definitely packed, and not lightly packed.  Though it doesn't include eggs, Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe most closely matches David's:
  • Technique - she also steeps the mint for an hour and not, say overnight as Jeni does
  • Amount of mint: Rose also calls for 2 cups lightly packed.  But her "lightly packed" mint weighs only 53 grams.  
Because 53 is way closer to 40 than 80, I used the amount called for in the hard copy of his book (40 grams).

I wrote to David, and he got back to me after I'd made the ice cream - it's supposed to be 80 grams (something he'd corrected for the newer edition), which tells me he intended it to be a more strongly minty ice cream, rather than the more gently minty ice cream that I made (though it's still quite wonderful).  He told me that the difference arose from a conversion error - he's an American living in France, and mostly uses metric units.  I must say that I sympathize.  I've spent the last 10 years making myself use metric as much as possible, and it's just better in every way.  

I think I'd also like to blend some of the mint with the mixture, so that it's a bit more green (and overshadows the yellow from the yolks).

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor. Next time I'll use white sugar. The flavor is fine, but between the green from the mint, the brown from the sugar, and the orange from the yolks, the color was kind of an unattractive pale mustard color.
  • After the steeping, the dairy mixture was only slightly warm, so I just added the yolks, and whisking constantly, raised the temp to about 175F/80C.

Results:

  • Same day: Quite good - silky smooth, but the mint flavor was more gentle and less overly herbaceous than Jeni's recipe, which is both a pro and a con. The adult members of my family love the herbaceousness, but my 7-year-old granddaughter does not.   Because I didn't like the slightly mustardy color of the custard, I churned it on a fast speed to lighten it, and the finished ice cream is much prettier.
  • Next day: silky smooth, a bit harder than I prefer, but overall quite delicious.      

Uses:

  • I added 1/2 cup Oreo chunks and also layered in ribbons of Dorcas's hot fudge which I think gets a little lost. I need to learn how to make a more forward fudge ripple, I think.  
  • I've seen recipes that call for chunks of chocolate ganache, and I suspect that would be wonderful as well.  
  • Girl Scout Thin Mints would also be a great textural element. I'll have to pick up a box the next time they are selling.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Book Review: Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek and JJ Goode

https://amzn.to/3VlczaS


This has got to be the strangest ice cream book I own. I like daring and unusual flavors, but this one takes the cake (pun absolutely intended). I've read through it pretty carefully and tried a caramel sauce from the book, though not any of the ice creams yet, and well ... it's weird. It's not bad by any means, just unexpected.

Not because of its unusual flavors (of which it has many), but in its combination of flavors. Most ice cream cookbooks include recipes for three things: 1) classic flavors, 2) house specialties, and 3) mix-ins and toppings. 

Every ice cream shop is going to have the classics: vanilla, chocolate, mint, caramel, strawberry, coffee, etc., and most ice cream cookbooks are going to include the author's take on those. S&S on the other hand has only one, a recipe for double-fold vanilla.   All the other house specialties utilize classic flavors (strawberry-honey balsamic with black pepper ice cream, or salted sweet cream ice cream with caramel ribbons). 

In other words, this book leans extremely heavily on the house specialties (which I kind of like), and I love trying new combinations and unusual flavors. But ... ice cream happens to be something that is reliably vegetarian (if not vegan), and this book isn't an exception, not exactly. As a long-time mostly-vegetarian, that is also something I appreciate, but as a pragmatist, I'm fine with the fact that most ice cream books are going to have at least one recipe that includes candied bacon, and there is one such offering here (bacon caramel). 

But it doesn't stop with bacon; the irony makes me giggle a little. It has recipes for/including turkey (turkey skin/stock/boullion/fat), chicken (stock/boullion/fat/skin), gelatin, and …. pork blood. Take a gander:

  • Xocolatl De David’s Bacon Raleigh Bar Ice Cream (gelatin and bacon)
  • Chocolate "Sardines" Ice Cream (gelatin)
  • Creepy Crawly Critters Ice Cream (candied bugs)
  • Grandma Dracula’s Blood Pudding Ice Cream (pig blood)
  • Buttered Mashed Potatoes & Gravy Ice Cream (chicken stock and bouillon)
  • Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey Ice Cream (turkey stock, bouillon, and skin)

Some of the omnivorous recipes actually sound pretty good, and if I still ate meat, I'd happily give them a try (the Xocolatl one is salted sweet cream ice cream with chocolate-covered pecans, caramel infused with bacon, and chocolate marshmallow nougat, and the "Sardines" recipe is chocolate with chunks of Swedish Fish-infused jello). There is one I might learn to like if I could get past the crunchy chitin from bugs (the creepy crawly flavor is tequila, orange, and matcha ice cream with chocolate-covered crickets and coconut-toffee candied insects). But the last three kinda turn my stomach (brandied chocolate pig's blood, mashed potato ice cream with white chocolate/chicken bouillon ripple, and turkey ice cream with turkey skin brittle).  I don't think I'd like those even if I were still omnivorous. 

But those recipes aside, 51 of the 57 recipes are vegetarian, and there are many that sound great, in particular Stumptown Coffee & Burnside Bourbon Ice Cream, Almond Brittle With Salted Ganache Ice Cream, and the Honey-Lavender.  There are many others that sound delicious as well. 

As for the mix-ins, they are pretty standard, including the usual chocolate sauces and brittles, cookies, and brownies.  The caramel sauce is really quite excellent - it remains pliable when frozen (kitchen chemistry to the rescue!), instead of turning hard like stiff taffy the way most caramels do when cold.

It uses a philosophy that I really like, providing three different bases to which you add flavorings: an ice cream base, a sorbet base, and even a vegan ice cream base. 

The vegan base is another area where they get weird.  First of all, the presence of a base suggests that it's neutral-flavored and easily adaptable, but in this case they only use it in a single recipe, and they give zero instructions for using it with other flavors.  In fact, their vegan base probably cannot be widely used as it is STRONGLY coconutty, and the coconut would overshadow most other flavors.  So, this feels (particularly in the context of a meatier-than-usual offering) almost phoned-in, included so they can claim it's vegan-friendly when it really isn't. 

So: if you are looking for dairy-free desserts, look elsewhere (it doesn't even include sorbets which are typically vegan). But if you are interested in interesting flavors, this might be a fine choice.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: Rose Levi Beranbaum's Chocolate Ice Cream

"Chocolate Ice Cream" from Rose's Ice Cream Bliss by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

  • The online recipe can be found here
  • My other Chocolate ice cream reviews can be found here.

This is an unusual recipe in that it includes a little malted milk powder and a tiny bit of instant espresso powder (1/16 tsp for the whole recipe). It's not as deeply chocolate as I prefer, but it's really quite delicious, perhaps the best "regular" chocolate ice cream I've ever made.

It was a little hard getting all the cocoa dissolved, so next time, I think I'd put the salt, espresso powder, sugar, malt powder, and cocoa in the saucepan first and stir it together well, then add the yolks, liquid sugar, milk, and the first part of cream on top of that.  Whisk, then turn on the heat.

Creating the custard went really fast because I set my pan on the scale and used the gram measures from Rose's book, hitting tare between each ingredient.  I also cooked the custard in the pan (as the recipe directs) instead of the double boiler, and it seemed fine.  Once chilled, it was quite thick, but still pourable. 

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor.
  • Tapioca syrup instead of glucose.
  • Nielsen Massey vanilla extract.
  • Lake Champlain Unsweetened Organic Cocoa - this really is one of the best ones - excellent flavor and it's finely ground enough that it easily goes into solution with little effort, without imparting a powdery taste.

Results:

  • Same day: Wonderfully smooth texture, nice milder chocolate flavor.
  • Next day: Smooth, nice texture, slightly less scoopable than I'd like.

Uses:

  • I stirred in about 1.5 ounces of crispy toasted sweetened coconut chips/flakes and while the coconut chips are a nice texture element, they are quite delicate, and the flavor gets a little lost against the chocolate.  I think chunks of coconut macaroons (Mounds candy bars?) would be better, or maybe toasted shredded coconut - anything to make the coconut element bigger, and a little more forward.  
  • I also stirred in 1/4 cup of toasted slivered almonds because that's all I had on hand.  The toasted almonds held their own nicely against the backdrop of the chocolate, but I think it needed double the amount I used.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: Jeni Britton Bauer's Olive Oil Ice Cream with Roasted Pepitas

  "Olive Oil Ice Cream with Roasted, Salted Pepitas" from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer.

  • The online recipe can be found here
  • My other ice cream reviews of unusual flavors can be found here.

Note: Pepitas are a variety of pumpkin seed with no hard hull and a thin, delicate thin.  They are common in Mexican cooking. 

I've been planning to make this recipe ever since I ordered an award-winning, freshly pressed olive oil (link below) from California two months ago. I know from unfortunate past experience that rancid olive oil is unbelievably nasty, so it was important to me to be absolutely sure that the olive oil had zero hint of rancidity.

But, I must admit this ice cream flavor kinda scares me. Really.  I've had the book for more than a decade, and I've never managed to try it, despite being intrigued by the idea. Olive oil? Seriously, that's for salad dressings and sautéing veggies, right?

So, I finally decided to stop being afraid of the flavor and give it a try. I figured that the worst case is that I end up composting it, wasting 1/4 cup of a very nice olive oil. 

.... And, to my surprise, it's pretty good! I don't think I'll ever be a huge fan, and unless someone in my family falls in love with it, I probably won't make it again, but it's definitely not going in the compost.

There is a faint hint of olives in the flavor, which is decidedly strange (but not bad) but shouldn't be because olives are fruits, and sniffing the chilled (but unchurned custard) it is a little off-putting because it makes me think of sautéed vegetables. But the colder the base got, the better it was. Once it was churned/soft-serve, it was pretty good, and once it was hard frozen, all off-putting notes disappeared, and it's just good.  I think maybe a little lemon zest would be a wonderful note.

Here's something weird: it's an unusually creamy ice cream, which is counter-intuitive, given that it has LESS cream than other recipes (you reduce the cream, and then make up the fat content with the olive oil).  

The real standout though, was discovering that roasted pepitas are insanely delicious in ice cream, and that discovery alone was worth the effort of making an ice cream I may not make again.

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor.
  • Tapioca starch instead of cornstarch (1:1 ratio).
  • Tapioca syrup as the liquid sugar instead of corn syrup (1:1 ratio).
  • I only had raw pepitas on hand, so I tossed them into a dry skillet with some fine popcorn salt, and stirred almost constantly. When they started to pop and snap, I removed the pan from the heat and froze them. 
  • I used Katz Rock Hill Ranch Estate Grown Chef's Pick Extra Virgin Olive Oil harvested in November/December 2023. I wanted to ensure that the ice cream had zero hint of rancidity, so I made sure to get olive oil I was certain was fresh.

Results:

  • Same day: Silky smooth, OK flavor, wonderfully crunchy pepitas.
  • Next day: Silky smooth,  nice flavor, wonderfully crunchy pepitas. Nicely scoopable.

Uses: 
  • I don't think this flavor is one that lends itself to a float or a sundae. But that's OK - it stands on its own nicely.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: Rose Levy Beranbaum's Vanilla Ice Cream

"Vanilla Ice Cream" from Rose's Ice Cream Bliss by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
  • My other vanilla ice cream reviews can be found here.

Since I couldn't find the recipe online, I've included a stripped-down version of her ingredient list with only the imperial measurements (but really, you should just buy her book, which also gives metrics - both weight and volume - and instructions/techniques, and ... it's my new favorite ice cream book). I've also shared my own instructions/techniques which do differ from the author's.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 smallish Madagascar vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped out
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 3 tbsp liquid sugar (glucose or reduced corn syrup)
  • 1 pinch fine salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place all ingredients except the vanilla extract into a saucepan over medium-low heat, or upper chamber of a double boiler. Whisk ingredients together and then turn on the heat (medium-low) and continue whisking until ingredients reach about 175F/79C and have thickened slightly and coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat, add vanilla extract, and set custard in very cold water and whisk for a few minutes and the custard cools down. Place in fridge and chill overnight and very cold. Before churning, remove the vanilla pods.

I used 2 small Madagascar vanilla beans from Vanilla Bean Kings and Vanilla Bean Project Regenerative Organic Certified Pure Vanilla Extract.  I definitely favor using both extract and beans.  

The custard barely thickened, even though I took it all the way to 180F (dangerous, as eggs do odd things above that temp), even 182 briefly (I hadn't intended to take it above 175F, but I was messing with my new thermometer) 

The vanilla flavor is wonderfully strong and the ice cream is silky smooth. I really like this recipe a lot.

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor
  • Tapioca syrup 1:1 instead of glucose
  • Vanilla pods infused in the custard in overnight
  • I didn't follow Rose's techniques, but used the no-temper method (outlined above), which is similar but not identical.

Results:

  • Same day: silky smooth and wonderfully flavorful. 
  • Next day:  silky smooth and wonderfully flavorful. Scoopable, but only just.

Uses:

  • I stirred Mi-Del lemon snap chunks into the ice cream and layered/swirled lemon curd in with the ice cream to make lemon-vanilla cookies and cream.  It was very, very tasty.

 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: Ample Hill's Creamery Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

  “Vanilla Bean” from Ample Hill's Creamery: Secrets and Stories from Brooklyn's Favorite Ice Cream Shop by Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna.

  • The online recipe for the base can be found here (for those who don't use metric measurements: here).
  • My other vanilla ice cream reviews can be found here.

This was an unusual recipe in that it directs you to steep a few whole coffee beans in the custard, which you strain out just before churning.  It uses only 3 eggs for one recipe, and I found that the custard didn't thicken very much when I cooked it (the recipe has you take it to 165 and ignores the texture).  It also includes a LOT of skim milk powder (1/2 cup!) and it took a lot of whisking to get it fully dissolved.  The coffee beans float which made it very easy to locate them and pull them out the next day.

I used a Madagascar vanilla bean from Vanilla Bean Kings and Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract (which I'm trying to use up). 

I really like this recipe. It is nice and smooth and has a lovely flavor. The recipe says you can't taste the coffee, but I totally could. It's obvious in the soft-serve stage, and still faintly detectible once fully frozen.  As much as I love coffee ice cream, I don't think I'd include the coffee beans again - it limits how the finished ice cream can be used, and I found myself searching for the coffee and wishing it were stronger.

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • The recipe in the book calls for 1 vanilla bean and 1.5 tsp of vanilla extract so that's what I did.
  • Turbinado sugar (always).
  • No-temper technique in a double boiler: I put the egg yolks and sugar in the top chamber of the double boiler and whisked them until well integrated. I added all the rest of the ingredients (except for the extract) and turned on the heat. I whisked constantly until the milk powder dissolved, then frequently after that.

Results:

  • Same day: Coffee flavor was definitely detectible. Delicious and smooth.
  • Next day:  Coffee was much less obvious in the fully-frozen ice cream. Still smooth and reasonably scoopable (though I wish it were more so).

Uses:

  • I used 1.25 cups of homemade chocolate chips and also layered in caramel sauce.  I'd intended to make a vanilla-lemon ice cream but I didn't think the coffee flavor would go with lemon very well.
  • I think if the coffee is included, I'd lean toward combining the ice cream with stronger, bolder flavors that don't lean sour.  So chocolate is good, and fruit other than citrus.  Caramels, hot fudge, etc.

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

Years ago, I had red beans and rice in New Orleans, and it was simply delicious. Then, in 1998, I became a vegetarian, and I've tried my hand at making a vegetarian version, but it was never very good. I think the bean mixture wasn't saucy enough, so it always ended up kind of dry and pasty.

Anyway, I stumbled across this Serious Eats recipe, and adapted it in two ways: this version uses vegetarian sausage as the meat substitute, and it uses a pressure cooker to cook the beans and rice, so the timing had to be modified significantly. I also added my own spin on the amounts of some of the ingredients. It turned out really tasty, and was the first vegetarian version I've actually liked.

Beans:

  • 1 pound (450g) red beans of your choice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Other aromatics of your choice


Sausage and Veggies:

  • 1 pkg of vegetarian spicy Italian sausage, frozen or thawed (Should include 3-6 large sausages, depending on brand)
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (about 12 ounces; 340g)
  • 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped (about 8 ounces; 225g)
  • 4 ribs celery, finely chopped (about 8 ounces; 225g)
  • 4-10 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon (3 to 15g) ground cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon (about 4g) ground sage
  • Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
  • Salt to taste
  • 2-4 tbsp Apple cider vinegar (optional - adds a pickled taste characteristic of some variations)


Serving:

  • 2 or so cups of rice of your choice
  • Hot sauce to taste


Instructions:

  1. Cook beans, bay leaves, and other aromatics in a pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions for that bean type. 
  2. While the beans are cooking, put the oil in dutch oven along with the sausages. Defrost/cook, turning occasionally. When the sausage has thawed, use the tip of a spatula or a knife to cut sausage into ½” disks. Continue cooking until nicely browned.
  3. While the sausages are cooking, chop the onion, pepper, celery, and garlic. Add the vegetables except for the garlic to the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes until softened and browning at the edges. 
  4. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, then add the cayenne, sage, thyme, and black pepper to taste (but there should be lots of it) and cook for another minute or so, until everything is fragrant.
  5. Add Beans:
    • Slower method: When the beans are done, release the pressure (don’t wait for an NPR; the beans will still be al dente), add the beans and the bean liquid (along with bay leaves) to the vegetable/sausage mixture in the dutch oven, cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the beans are tender, perhaps another 30 minutes or so (depending on bean type and age).  
    • Faster method: let the beans cook fully in the pressure cooker (including the natural pressure release) then add the contents of the pressure cooker to the Dutch oven.
  6. While the beans are simmering in the Dutch oven, cook the rice.  
  7. Remove the lid from the bean mixture and continue to cook until the liquid becomes creamy. If the stew looks dry before it becomes creamy, add additional water, and repeat until the mixture seems thick and creamy. The bean mixture will be a little soupy when it is done.
  8. Add salt to taste, and if using, the vinegar (some styles call for pickled elements)
  9. Serve over rice, and add hot sauce as needed


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Marriage to a Fellow Tool-Whore

It's fun being married to a tool-whore who not just enables me to buy more cool kitchen gadgets, but actively encourages it.  

I'm still trying to figure out the cause of my two custard failures (seriously, I've made several dozen successful ones and never had a failure before, so this is bugging me), and I can't rule out having simply overcooked it (see below for my reasoning). 

So, I researched kitchen thermometers and came up with two well-regarded models tested by organizations I trust, the OXO Good Grips Glass Candy and Deep Fry Thermometer ($23), and the Thermoworks ChefAlarm® Cooking Alarm Thermometer and Timer ($65). They both have significant pros and cons and the price varies significantly (the expensive one isn't so expensive we can't afford it, but it does seem like a lot to spend on a thermometer) so it wasn't an easy decision.  Anyway, I sent the links to Chris thinking that he may have an opinion based on his own needs/uses.  I also thought he'd most likely encourage me to just get the cheaper one as it would almost certainly meet my needs.

A few minutes later, he came to my office and we had the following conversation:

Chris: This is probably not the advice you were looking for ...

Me:  [thinking: great, he's going to suggest making do with what we have]

Chris: ... but I think you should get them both.

Me: [eyebrows up] What? Really?

Chris: Yeah.  I'm pretty enchanted by the electronic one and the various uses, though I don't like that it uses triple-A's instead of rechargeables.  And the cheap one is low-tech and looks both accurate and reliable ... and it'll be great to have after the fall of civilization.

Me: Well, OK, then [orders both].


Why I think I may have overcooked the custard:

I tend to use my Fluke infrared (IR) thermometer (and it lives on the kitchen island), as it's quick and extremely handy.  But after my first custard failure, I made it again, this time using TWO thermometers, the Fluke as well as a cheap candy thermometer, the kind with a dial and a probe that extends down into the custard that you clip to the side of your pan.  

I noticed that the Fluke tended to read significantly cooler than the candy thermometer, by about 7-8 degrees F.  But the nature of IR thermometers is that they measure surface temperature only.  You can hold the trigger and scan across the item's surface, and when you release the trigger, it'll give you an average of the surface temps, but it's still just surface temperatures.  The probe, on the other hand, is measuring (I think) an average temperature along its length below the surface.  

I cooked the custard until the IR readings were consistently 170F.  The probe also showed that it was around 170F by that point as well (why do they sometimes match, and sometimes not?), but it took significantly longer to get there.  So maybe I cooked it too long, or maybe it was much hotter than 170 near the bottom of the mixture, despite my constant stirring.  And custards need to be kept under 180-185F, otherwise the egg yolks do weird things.


Making custard with four
thermometers is kind of a pain


Sunday, May 19, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: Van Leeuwen's Vanilla Ice Cream

  “Vanilla Ice Cream” on page 37 of Van Leeuwen's Artisan Ice Cream Book by Laura O'Neill, Ben Van Leeuwen, Pete Van Leeuwen, and Olga Massov.

  • The online recipe can be found here. (You'll need to scroll down a bit, and click on the image to enlarge).
  • My other vanilla ice cream reviews can be found here

I made this ice cream FOUR times before I felt like it was at all reasonable to review it.  The first two times were failures, and despite all my research, I still don't know why. The third time was a failure for a different reason (one that was entirely my fault), and the 4th time was an unmitigated success producing a wonderfully rich, smooth ice cream.

This ice cream uses eight egg yolks for a quart-sized batch.  Yes, you read that right - EIGHT.  The ice cream is very nearly yellow in color.  The recipe lacks both a liquid sugar or any sort of stabilizer, but I suspect the extreme number of yolks may keep the ice cream smooth despite that, though I'm curious to see if it remains smooth after a couple of weeks in the freezer.

For the first three tries, I was still using up older stock of Madagascar vanilla beans, and for the fourth try I finally got to use my newer Vanilla Bean Kings stash. 

First try (failure): I used the no-temper technique (placing all ingredients while still cold into the pan) in a sauce pan using medium heat (as normal) and whisked nearly continuously until it reached 170F/77C and when it was done cooking it was nice and smooth, but once the custard cooled, it had turned grainy (before going into the churn). I don't think the problem could be with leaving the bean pod in the custard overnight - I always do that, and it's never caused graininess before.  The ice cream was an abject failure. Good flavors, but absolutely terrible, grainy texture. Overall, it was a 3 out of 10.  Other than giving a few samples away to family, I tossed it.  

Second try (failure): Same as above, but I cooked the custard on medium-low and used not one but TWO thermometers - a probe-style clipped to the pan, and also regular checks with the instant-read.  This, too, was smooth while hot and grainy once cool.  I rescued this one by running it through the Vitamix before churning, and that raised its score to maybe a 7/10. Still not where it should be, but definitely worth eating.

Third try (failure): For this one, I followed the recipe EXACTLY (except for leaving the bean pod in the custard overnight), even using a double-boiler. I did notice that the quality of the creme anglaise was better than usual when the cooking was complete. The graininess was still there the next morning, but MASSIVELY reduced, like by 90%.  I also re-read the sidebar which suggests blending the bean pod in with the custard, and I unthinkingly did so, which spoiled the experiment by adding a confounding variable).   I must not have blended it long enough because the texture was just  ... odd.  Almost, powdery, I guess? It was scoopable, though, so I don't think it was an emulsion failure, and the odd texture seemed to be from not-quite-fully processed vanilla bean pod bits.  I don't think the vanilla flavor was improved by blending the bean, so I won't be doing that in the future. I threw away the second half of the quart.

Fourth try (success): I used a bean from Vanilla Bean Kings (is it possible that the problems with the previous tries were with the beans I was using?), and I again followed the recipe as written (though I left the bean pod in the custard during the chilling process, removing it just before churning).  This time, I turned out perfectly and was delicious.

For whatever reason, this custard seems far more finicky than others, but that might be an unfair assessment, and I will be doing some testing to see what caused the graininess.   Like, can I get away with just a saucepan (instead of a double-boiler) if I add some liquid sugar and/or stabilizers? Or what if I use the double-boiler - is that enough to use the no-temper method even without the liquid sugar or stabilizers?  Or did I simply overcook it in the saucepan? (My instant read thermometer seems to register a cooler temperature than the candy thermometer.) I am really not sure what the tradeoffs will be. It'll be interesting to find out.

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor for the first two batches.
  • I used white sugar for the third and fourth batches (as I'm trying to figure out the cause of the graininess).
  • This recipe uses only one vanilla bean, and no extract (I think I prefer vanilla ice cream to have both), but in the first batch, I accidentally used two vanilla beans, so the flavor was nice and strong despite the lack of extract.  How did I accidentally use two?  Before putting the milk/cream for this recipe in the freezer (I buy milk and cream in larger quantities, then freeze it in ready-to-go amounts), I split a vanilla bean and dropped it into the milk.  When I was ready to make this ice cream, I set the jar of frozen dairy in a pan of warm water to thaw, then started gathering my other ingredients. Forgetting that there was a bean frozen into the milk, I got another one ready to go and added it to the pan. Then I dumped the milk into the pan ... along with the second bean.
  • For the second batch, I used only one bean.
  • For the third batch, I used only one bean, but I blended it into the custard.
  • For the first two batches, I used the-throw-all-cold ingredients into the pan and cook until it hits 170F/77C technique (ie, no-temper technique), but for some reason, the custards were grainy.
  • For the third and fourth batches, I used a double-boiler, and did temper the eggs.

Results:

  • Custard 1: 
    • Same day: Grainy. Good flavor.
    • Next day: Terrible texture. Dry and very, very hard and grainy. The flavor was good. But it was bad enough to throw it away.
  • Custard 2 (blended before churning): 
    • Same day: Good flavor, acceptable texture.
    • Next day: Acceptable texture, reasonably scoopable, Flavor was good.  Much better than the previous batch, but definitely far from my best.
  • Custard 3 (radically reduced graininess that might just be the vanilla seeds, blended pod into custard before churning). Unfortunately, I don't think I blended the pod ENOUGH because it made it a little chalky.
    • Same day: kind of chalky from the blended pod.  Not sure I like that.
    • Next day: It's reasonably scoopable, even frozen hard. Texture is still off, but I think that's the fault of the pod, which I apparently didn't blend fully. I also don't think the flavor is especially improved by blending the pod, so doubt I'll bother with that again.
  • Custard 4: Delicious.  Just perfect both days.  

Uses:

  • I added dark chocolate chips, candied orange peel, and drizzled homemade orange syrup into the ice cream to make a ripple of sorts in two batches. I think ginger snap chunks would taste great with this combination, or maybe chocolate wafers (like Oreos, but better).
  • With the third batch, I didn't add any stir-ins as I'm having guests that weekend, and having vanilla ice cream on hand would be a good idea.
  • With the fourth batch, I added Oreo cookies and raspberry ripple.  

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: Rose Levy Beranbaum's Dark Brown Sugar Ice Cream with Black Pepper

  “Dark Brown Sugar Ice Cream with Black Pepper” from Rose's Ice Cream Bliss by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

  • My other ice cream reviews can be found here.

I can't find the recipe online except behind a paywall, so I've included the ingredients below, so you can get a sense of the flavors:

  • Dairy: 2 cups heavy cream and 1 cup whole milk
  • Eggs: 7-11 (I used 9)
  • Sugars: - 3/4 cup dark brown sugar and 2 tbsp liquid sugar
  • Other flavors: 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and a pinch of salt
  • Black pepper: Added as a "to-taste" topping when the ice cream is served.

I didn't like the black pepper as a topping very much - it felt out of place and didn't meld the flavors at all. We also managed to inhale it a bit from time to time, making us cough a little now and then as we ate.  I'm inclined to either add black pepper to a caramel sauce and layer that in, OR cook the black pepper inside a fine mesh bag to infuse the flavor, then remove it before churning. 

I didn't think the brown sugar flavor was quite strong enough, so I stirred in 2 tsp of molasses to the chilled custard (molasses is acidic, so it's best added when the milk is cold to avoid curdling the dairy). One family member thought the molasses flavor was too strong, and others liked it.  

Alas, my ice cream maker decided to leak coolant out the bottom (fortunately NOT into the ice cream), so I transferred the partially frozen mixture to my backup ice cream maker and promptly broke the hub assembly on the second bowl, so I finished churning by hand (just mixing it in the frozen bowl).  I went from two ice cream makers to zero in about 5 minutes.    I now have a replacement bowl (under warranty) and a new hub assembly on their way to me.  Obscenities could probably be heard at my neighbor's house.

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • I used brown sugar as the recipe called for instead of my usual turbinado.
  • I used glucose as the liquid sugar.
  • I (mostly) followed Rose's no-temper technique; I put the egg yolks into the pan, added the granulated sugar to them and beat them a little to combine. Then I added all the other ingredients except the vanilla, turned on the heat and cooked, gently whisking nearly constantly until the temperature passed 165F/74C and it was starting to thicken.  I didn't use a double boiler, and the texture was nice and smooth.
  • I transferred the mixture to my milk can, added the vanilla extract, and set the can in a sink of cold water. I mixed for a few minutes, then left it to chill for an hour before transferring to the fridge to finish chilling.

Results:

  • Same day: Nice and smooth despite the hand-mixed finish. Very nice flavor.  I think I'd recommend people start with 1 tsp of molasses to amp up the flavor, and add a second (as I did) if they like it strong.
  • Next day: Not as smooth as I'd like, but very very good considering how I churned it.

Uses:

  • Strawberry sauce goes nicely on it. I think an apple caramel sauce ribbon would be good, as well as graham crackers, or a cookies-and-cream variation using ginger snaps.  

Friday, May 10, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: David Lebowitz's Chocolate Ice Cream

  “Chocolate Ice Cream” from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebowitz.

  • The online recipe can be found here
  • My other chocolate ice cream reviews can be found here

I don't know if it's the double-boiler that caused this, but this is the smoothest egg-based custard I've ever made (despite not having a liquid sugar nor a stabilizer both of which really do help prevent iciness).  I also had some difficulty getting the custard up to 170F/77C, but I watched the consistency, and it thickened appropriately on the cool side - around 160F/71C.  I wonder if it's because the water level had dropped too much in the lower chamber of the double boiler?  It was far from empty, but it dropped an inch in the time I cooked the custard.

Note: to pasteurize an egg, it must be held at 140F/60C for 3.5 minutes. The custard was held at a significantly higher temperature for a significantly longer period of time, so the concern here wasn't with food safety, but whether it would achieve the right texture (it did).

Either way, once chilled, the custard was so thick (about the consistency of pudding cups I ate as a kid) I had to spoon it into the churn.   I must have managed the temperatures appropriately because I doubt it would have thickened so much if I hadn't. 

It's also very deeply chocolatey (which I appreciate in an ice cream).  I think I prefer the flavor of Fany Gerson's chocolate ice cream with mazapán (which tastes like a flourless chocolate cake in ice cream form), but this was really, really good.

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor.
  • I used chocolate chips as the chocolate source.
  • I'm currently using a double boiler for my egg-based custards.
  • I used the no-temper technique I adapted from Serious Eats and Rose Levy Beranbaum. I placed the egg yolks into the upper chamber of the double boiler (while it was cold) and whisked them with 1/3 of the sugar. Then I added all the rest of the ingredients except the vanilla and chocolate chips, whisked it gently then turned on the heat under the double boiler.  
  • I filled the sink with cold water in preparation for rapid chilling of the custard.
  • The chocolate chips and vanilla went into my mini milk can that I use to chill the custard.  I poured the custard onto the chips, then placed the can into the sink of cold water to begin the chilling process.  
  • I whisked the mixture to melt the chips, and it turned a deep glossy, chocolatey brown (that glossiness is what you are looking for), and I continued whisking for a couple of minutes, long enough for it to cool to warm then left the can in the cold water for an hour before transferring the custard to the fridge overnight.
  • I churned at a faster speed than usual to decrease the richness a little. It lightened noticeably in color (as with a whipped ganache).

Results:

  • Same day: Silky smooth. The flavor is more deeply chocolate than the color would imply. Wonderful.
  • Next day: Excellent flavor and texture.  Not as scoopable as I'd like - still need to let it sit at room temp for 10 minutes first. 

Uses:

  • Chambord is delicious on this ice cream. 
  • I think a salted caramel ripple would be wonderful in it, or even some sort of banana ripple ... or any fruit ripple, really.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: Rose Levy Beranbaum's Strawberry Ice Cream

  “Strawberry Ice Cream” on page 55 of Rose's Ice Cream Bliss by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

  • The online recipe can be found here. (see below for instructions for using fresh or frozen strawberries rather than puree).
  • My other strawberry ice cream reviews can be found here.

This flavor is a challenge, I admit. Strawberries, being the wateriest of fruits, can make it difficult to achieve a smooth texture. Many churners resort to making strawberries-and-cream styles (vanilla ice cream with ribbons of strawberry jam), or they use less strawberry puree, resulting in more dilute flavor. My own recipe from 15 years ago has a wonderful flavor, but when frozen hard, it gets a little icy.

This recipe, while very very good, didn't result in as intensely strawberry flavor as I'd like. I know that fresh strawberry ice cream can be pure manna, so I plan to persevere until I've got a more intensely-flavored, silky-smooth strawberry ice cream. 

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always), as I prefer the flavor.
  • The online recipe is a variation that uses commercially-made puree.  If you are using frozen/fresh strawberries, here's what you should do instead:
    • Freeze 20 ounces of strawberries (if using fresh strawberries only). 
    • Place frozen strawberries in a colander over a bowl and let thaw (several hours at room temp, a couple of days in the fridge). 
    • Stir the berries and gently press until you have about 7 tbsp or 1/2 cup of juice collected in the bowl 
    • Place the strawberry juice, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 2 tsp of lemon juice in a large glass 4-cup measuring cup (you MUST use at least this size of cup for the next step to prevent boil-overs).
    • Cook the juice in the microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after every 30-second blast.  Repeat until it has reduced to about 1/4 of the original volume. It will be thick and a little syrupy.
    • Puree the pulp from the strawberries and combine it with the cooked strawberry syrup.
    • Follow the online recipe as written, using your homemade sweetened strawberry puree in place of the commercial puree. Don't add additional lemon juice - it's already in the puree that you made.
  • I omitted the drops of strawberry essence called for in the original recipe (it's not listed in the online version).
  • Because my strawberry syrup amount was off and I used all of the sweetened puree (slightly more than the recipe calls for), I added 1 tbsp of milk powder to the custard. I probably shouldn't have done that, as now I don't know how it would have turned out without it.
  • I just mashed the strawberry pulp instead of pureeing it in a food processor. I probably should have pureed it. 
  • I used tapioca starch instead of cornstarch at a 1:1 substitution. I stirred the milk/starch slurry into the custard just after removing it from the heat.
  • I used glucose.

Results:

  • Same day: Soft-serve texture is good, and the flavor is nicely strawberry-ish. I'd like it to be stronger yet, though.
  • Next day: This is wonderfully scoop-able, even hard-frozen. I'm not sure if it's due to the mashing (instead of pureeing), but I can detect the strawberry seeds, something I don't recall from previous batches of this flavor. But it's far smoother than the recipe I developed 15 years ago.  The flavor is still very good.    

Uses:

  • I left it plain, but I think a ribbon of strawberry sauce/ripple or macerated strawberry compote would be delicious and intensify the flavor nicely.
  • Topping it with chocolate sauce or adding chocolate or toasted white-chocolate stracciatella to the ice cream would be yummy.
  • Maybe stir in some sort of candied graham crackers to add crunch and suggest a strawberry pie?

Monday, April 15, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: Fany Gerson's Chocolate Ice Cream with Peanut Marzipan

"Chocolate Ice Cream with Peanut Marzipan" on page 99 of  Mexican Ice Cream: Beloved Recipes and Stories by Fany Gerson.

  • I couldn't find this one online; I included an adapted version below. 
  • My other chocolate ice cream reviews can be found here.

This ice cream tastes like a cross between a flourless chocolate cake and a Reese's peanut butter cup.  It's decadent and delicious.  

You'll either need to buy or make peanut mazapán, a Mexican candy made with only two ingredients: roasted peanuts and powdered sugar.  

This is actually the second time I've made it - I screwed it up the first time. I was experimenting with a new technique of adding all the ingredients at once, then cooking until the custard thickens, but what I didn't know is that in order to thicken the custard, the egg yolks need to reach a much higher temperature than chocolate can handle, and I wound up with seized chocolate (flavor was still good, but the ice cream was grainy - like eating chocolate sand).  The fats were also not properly emulsified which made the ice cream VERY hard, but also also had an odd texture: kind of dry and crumbly.  

So this time, I put all ingredients except the chocolate and cocoa into the pan, cooked it until the custard thickened, removed it from the heat, and then let it cool down to below 120F/49C before adding the chocolate. That technique worked fine, and I wound up with delicious ice cream that was decidedly non-grainy. 

So, learn from my mistake, and don't heat your chocolate up beyond the temperature needed to melt it. 

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) of chopped/crumbled mazapán peanut candy
  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk (530 ml)
  • 3/4 cups heavy cream (175 ml)
  • 1/2 cup sugar  (100 grams)
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7.5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate chips or finely chopped bars (210 grams)
  • 3 1/2 tbsp of high-quality dutch-process cocoa (53 ml)
  • 2 tsp Mexican cinnamon (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Chop or crumble the mazapán (aim for pieces about the size of chocolate chips), and place in the refrigerator or freezer.
  2. Place all ingredients except the chocolate and cocoa into a pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until it begins to thicken (about 165F/74C). 
  3. Remove from heat and let sit for about 30 minutes.
  4. Add the chocolate to the custard and stir until melted and fully incorporated. If you let the custard get too cool, turn the heat on low and stir constantly until chocolate melts. Remove from heat immediately. 
  5. Chill custard in ice water (place pan in a bowl of ice water) for 30-60 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill fully.
  6. Churn.
  7. Stir mazapán into the soft ice cream, serve, or transfer to freezer to harden fully.
Notes:
  • The temperature of the custard needs to drop to about about 110F/43C before you add the chocolate (it MUST be below 120F/49C, otherwise the chocolate will seize, rendering the product grainy, like chocolate sand). I found that it took about 20 minutes to cool enough, but the time will vary based on ambient temperatures.
  • You need to locate a source of good quality dutch-process cocoa, that is finely ground enough to ensure it melts/dissolves fully. Low-quality cocoa that hasn't dissolved will leave the ice cream tasting powdery.  I like Lake Champlain Cocoa.

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor.
  • I added 1/8 cup of glucose to help smooth the ice cream (it's a non-sweet ice cream). I think I should have added another 1/8 cup.
  • The original recipe has you heat the dairy with half the sugar and when the sugar has melted, temper a mixture of egg/remaining sugar/salt/cocoa mixture. Cook until thick, then strain the custard into the chocolate and stir to melt/incorporate. I didn't do it that way.
  • I didn't include the cinnamon. I don't like it in chocolate (or coffee for that matter).

Results:

  • Same day: Ohmygod.  Delicious.  
  • Next day: Ice cream is still much harder and less smooth than many other recipes when frozen hard, but the chocolate ice cream flavor is one of the best I've tried. It's obviously made right this time and the texture is definitely not wrong.  This ice cream is very addictive, and very rich.
  • I want to figure out how to make this a little smoother/softer, while preserving that wonderful flavor.  
  • It's also a little too salty - most recipes call for a pinch on the light end, and up to 1/4-1/2 tsp on the salty end for a recipe. This one calls for a full teaspoon. I think the salt should be cut at least in half.

Uses:

  • This one is too rich and delicious for additional toppings and stands alone.

Friday, April 12, 2024

1946: Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: How I connect to Cary Elwes (or King George VI)

  1. My grandfather is Arthur Lubinski.
  2. Grandpa had a brother named Paul.
  3. The head of the SOE recommended Paul for commendation for bravery in 1946 for events in the spring of 1945.
  4. King George VI approved the King's Commendation for Brave Conduct medal to my uncle, and it was presented to Paul in 1948.

... and 76 year later ...

  1. Cary Elwes plays the head of the SOE in an upcoming movie

The upcoming movie is The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, directed by Guy Richie and stars Henry Cavill. It's a movie version of the SOE's Operation Postmaster (link at the end, but warning - spoilers).  Anyway at the 4 second mark in the preview below, Cary Elwes says, "Gus March-Phillips, I have a mission I want you to lead."  



Here's the character, so you can get more than a short glimpse of him:

Cary Elwes as Brigadier Gubbins


IMDb states that Elwes's character is named Brigadier Gubbins "M."  Well...as it turns out, that's Major-General Colin McVean Gubbins, the head of the SOE.  This guy:

The real Colin Gubbins.


I don't know if Uncle Paul knew Major-General Gubbins personally or not, but in 1946, Gubbins did sign the paperwork recommending Paul for the commendation for bravery (click on the next two images to enlarge):



And in 1948, the British ambassador to Belgium awarded the medal to my uncle on behalf of King George VI:



Amusingly, the award ceremony took place on April Fools' Day, 1948.