Thursday, November 28, 2013

From The Oven: The Great Sweet Potato Calamity (and my Sweet Potato Soufflé (Super Southern Style))

I feel delinquent... I meant to get this posted around Canadian Thanksgiving for my friend K, who asked for it after I posted about it on Facebook, and then it just got away from me.
Well, now it's American Thanksgiving, and I've got my writing-groove going, so here we go.

First, a little background about why this Canadian girl loves a Southern dish like Sweet Potato Soufflé, and the great Calamity story.
I lived in Atlanta for four very formative years (grades 7-10) and while some of that time was not ideal (namely, 7th grade, most of which I have literally blocked out and do not remember at all), some of it was supremely excellent.  I have some wonderful friends to this day from high school, and I also experienced some idyllic teenage American life.  Friday night football games, sleep overs, hanging around at the mall, charity car washes.  It was awesome.

I also had a step-grandmother, Louise, who was (since I have 0 contact with anyone from my ex-step-father's family... but if you're out there, I'd love to hear from you!) a wonderful Southern cook.  She doted on me, and I loved it.
She would *literally* bake a cake because she knew I was coming over!

One Thanksgiving (could've been a Christmas, but this feels like a Thanksgiving story), she had the sweet potato soufflé, covered in marshmallows of course, baking in the oven.
My step-father, who was a bit accident prone, was the one to take it out.

I don't know what happened next exactly, but all I saw was a slo-mo of the casserole dish falling to the floor.... the orange and white contents flowing UP in a GIANT wave.... and then splashing down against the floor next to the wood paneled wall, causing a ricochet effect and further traveling of the wave... ooooohhhhhh....

It was GLORIOUS in its disastrousness. It was historic. The Calamity lives on in the annual telling of the story (between me and my mother), who witnessed it as well.
There is laughter until there are tears, usually. 

The only orange wave I could find. Ah...the days before cell phone cams! It was just like this, but with more wood paneling and less sunny beach

Ok, so, with that in mind (!) let me tell you how I now make my sweet potatoes for holidays.  This is sort of a ratio thing, and I don't think you can get it wrong.  Just don't over-bake the marshmallows, or they disappear, and I become sad.

4-6 sweet potatoes (nothing fancy, not purple or anything, just the regular ones)
2-3 eggs
1 stick of butter, softened (or margarine, or leave it out if you don't like delicious things)
1/2c heavy cream (depends on how many potatoes you are using, what texture you like, etc), or 1/2 and 1/2, or evaporated milk, or regular milk. But really, cream.
1/2c. brown sugar, and white sugar (or splenda) to taste
pinch of salt
1-2tsp of combined cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger-- or use pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice, but then it will taste a lot like your pie, no?
1 bag of mini marshmallows (which are traditional, but big ones cut in half work fine too)
BIG casserole dish (1.5 to 2qts?) and butter or non-stick spray

Heat oven to 350
While that is happening, wash the potatoes well, and poke them all over with a fork, and then you can microwave them until they are very soft.  I'd say at least 20 minutes.
You can boil them and peel them if you like, or you can peel them and boil them (which is harder), but you'll lose nutrients to the water.

Once they are soft and cool enough to handle but still warm, peel the sweet potatoes and dump them in a big bowl. Don't leave too much behind on the skins, scrape if need be.
Mash them up with a potato masher.

Now you can keep going with the masher, or switch to a handheld mixer, or a whisk.
Mix in the soft butter, and the eggs, and mix well.
Should be thick. Now mix in your dairy of choice, a little at a time, until you get to the texture you like.  You are going for a loose mash, but NOT a pie filling.  Get it to where you like it.
Add the pinch of salt, and the brown sugar, and give it a taste for sweetness. Add more brown or white sugar (or splenda, of course) to your taste.
Add the spices-- start with 1tsp of cinnamon and shake in the others if you like them, and taste.

Ok, now the mash is where you like it, yes? Don't eat it all yet. It's better baked.

Grease (with butter, or non-stick spray) your casserole dish, and pour in the mash. Smooth it out. There should be room between the top of the mash and the top of the casserole, to help hold the marshmallows on.
Cover with aluminum, and bake the casserole for about 30-40 minutes at 350 (could be 375 if your oven is set higher for something else).  At this point, you can remove them and wait until closer to dinner, or keep going.

Now, remove the aluminum (did I really need to say that? You're probably stressed out with family coming and everything, so, yes, I did. You're welcome).
Top with mini marshmallows. Don't be shy. We're not talking 1 layer here. Dump them on there and spread them out.  They should sit somewhat above the top of the rim of the casserole dish.
Bake about 10 more minutes, until the marshmallows are puffy and golden, but not over cooked because then they disappear and become a sticky glaze. Not what you want.

I used big marshmallows, and I'm ok with that.

Put out on the table to ooohs and aaaaahs, and enjoy.  I like it warm, and then I really like it cold all the rest of the week!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dreaming of Ice Cream: The Only Chocolate Ice Cream recipe you willever need

This post has been sitting for a while, and now's the perfect time to get it out there for you.  You can trick this out for the holidays with some crushed mint candies, or about 1/4 to 1/2tsp of pure mint extract for an A-MAZING mint chocolate ice cream.

I'm working my way through the Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home book, trying to lower the calories and remove as much sugar and carbohydrates as possible.

So far, the Roasted Rhubarb frozen yogurt was great, and now, I'm working on the Darkest Chocolate Ever ice cream.

As I go along, I'm also experimenting with different types of sugar-free sweeteners and different types of thickeners.

The results so far have been good.  Jeni's recipes don't use eggs for thickening, emulsifying, or texture. Instead, she's discovered a mix of cream cheese, corn syrup, and cornstarch gives good body and scoop-ability to the mix.

I'd like to move away from cornstarch and corn syrup.  In this recipe, I'm working with a mix of guar gum and xanthan gum (I mix them together myself in a roughly 1:1 ratio) for thickening the dairy base.  You could also try the same type of product (a mix of low-carb, fiber-based) that is commercially available, like "thick it up" by Dixie Diner (check out as a reliable online retailer).

I'm also working with xylitol as a sweetener.  It has about 1/2 the calories of sugar, and has some great properties, like actually decreasing the incidence of tooth decay.  In ice cream, I find it helps keep the mix from freezing too hard (though your freezer settings have a LOT to do with that of course) in much the same way that sugar does. 
To lower the calorie count further, I use a syrup made from isomalt (in a 3:1 proportion with water, cook until melted and combined.  Voila! Great substitute for corn syrup. Leftovers will recrystallize in the fridge, however. You can always melt it again).  Isomalt  has about 1/4th the calories of sugar, and has different interesting properties.

Finally, if I need extra sweetness, I can turn to Splenda (powder or liquid concentrate, available in a lot of places), but I've not yet had to use much, if any, of it.

Ok, so that with that preamble out of the way, let's get to the best chocolate ice cream I've ever made, ever!

For the chocolate syrup:
1/2c Very excellent unsweetened cocoa powder (I used the "black label" house brand from my local grocery store, but I've used Ghirardelli in the past for other things and that is excellent too. Use the best you can get your hands on).
Here is my regular cocoa (on the left) and my premium cocoa (on the right):

1.5 oz very excellent very dark chocolate (I used an 85% cocoa solids bar that I like to eat, but you can use lighter chocolate, in the 55% to 70% range will work, but won't be as daaaaark)
1/2 c brewed coffee, or 1.5 T instant coffee mixed into 1/2c hot water (I used this. Decaf even!)
1/2c Xylitol (I use this in about 1:1 with sugar... maybe a bit less, but about that ratio)
pinch of salt (1/8th tsp)--  most chocolate-containing recipes call for salt, because it brings out the flavor in the chocolate more.  I'm not making salted chocolate, so just a pinch, ok?

For the Ice Cream Base:
2T. Isomalt syrup (see notes above)
2c. Whole milk
1c. Heavy cream
1.5 oz (3T.) Fat free cream cheese
1/2c Xylitol (remember, there's sweetness coming from the chocolate syrup)
Isomalt syrup
1/4 tsp thickening gum mix (see note above), and a very fine sieve or a powdered sugar shaker (or use the 1T plus 1tsp cornstarch called for in the original recipe)


First, melt the xylitol and coffee together over medium heat. When all the crystals are gone, mix in the isomalt, and the cocoa. Mix well, until everything is incorporated and glossy. Remove from heat, drop in the chocolate (broken up), and set aside to let melt. Give it a stir once or twice, off heat.

This is the cocoa sitting on top of the other ingredients for the syrup, waiting to be incorporated. Be patient.

Once everything is incorporated, it becomes smooth and glossy

Adding the chocolate to the syrup, off heat. Let it melt in, and stir now and then.

Next, in a separate bowl (medium to large, since this is where everything will come together), mix the cream cheese and the chocolate syrup, added a little at a time, until very smooth.

Prepare a very large bowl with ice and some water.

Then, mix the milk, cream, xylitol, and isomalt syrup together in a 4 qt pot (because it will get foamy), bring to a rolling boil over medium high heat, and boil, stirring, for 4 minutes. 

Starting to boil. See all the room in the pot?

Super boiling now. Note how much less room there is!

Take off the heat, and using a sieve or shaker, sprinkle in the thickening gum powder, while whisking. 
Return to the heat for another minute. 
It will not thicken as much as cornstarch would, but will thicken even more upon cooling.
(If you are using the cornstarch-- mix the cornstarch with a bit of the cold milk to make a slurry, then add the slurry to the milk/cream mixture off heat, then bring back to the heat).
Remove from heat. 

In a medium bowl, whisk a small amount of the hot liquid into the cream cheese/chocolate mixture until smooth. Keep adding and whisking, a little at a time, until all incorporated.

Mix the cream mixture into the chocolate/cream cheese mixture, a bit at a time

Now--either pour the whole thing into a ziptop bag, and put that bag in a big bowl filled with mostly ice and some water OR, put the medium bowl you have everything in already into the bowl, not letting any water get in. Sort of like a cold "bain marie" :)

Here's my medium bowl sitting inside the big bowl of ice and water
You need the mixture completely cold if you are going to make the ice cream right away.  Keep changing out the ice/water as it melts, and give the mixture a stir too, to get the hot and cold sections mixed up.

TIP: If you don't need to make the ice cream right away-- skip this step. Just put some plastic wrap over the mixture so that it's touching it (won't form a skin that way) and refrigerate overnight, and make the ice cream tomorrow.

When you are ready, pour into your ice cream maker and follow the maker's directions until the ice cream is ready (about 25-30 minutes for most brands).

Scoop out and either eat soft-serve right away, or, pack it into an airtight container, and freeze at least 4 hours until firm.

I would totally have a picture of the finished product for you... but I forgot, and then we (and friends) ate it all.  I'll make it again soon though!