It begins

I’m still FULL from our trip to Chicago, and it’s been over 24 hours since I got home. I felt full the entire time we were IN Chicago, but kept running blithely from restaurant to restaurant, eating the smorgasbord of awesome that spews effortlessly from each and every storefront, including (somehow) the non-food-related ones. Did you know Ralph Lauren makes spicy pork bao? Yeah…he doesn’t. But he does have a store called “Rugby,” which I’ve never seen before, and you can go in and customize your own rugby shirts, including one with pink stripes. It’s on the corner of North and Clybourn, which is basically the center of the universe, and also about one block away from where we were lucky enough to stay.

So I’m going to go through our eating day by day, which means you will have to wait a few posts to hear about Alinea, but don’t think I’m not working on it. It’s just a lot of work to put together that kind of descriptiveness without overusing the word “orgasm.”

So, day one:

Our flight was at 6:30 (the a.m. version), and I took two mg of alprazolam (xanax), so I slept through both our initial flight, AND the connecting. This is a Very Good Thing, because of how much I loathe flying. I have ever in my life stayed awake and loudly panicked with a grand total of 2 mg ambien, 2 mg of klonopin, and a glass of wine in my system. That should be enough to send me the way of Michael Jackson, but all it does for me is dull my alarm-barking about our pending plane crash. We’ve found xanax works the best, and when it’s coupled with an early a.m. flight and an ambien the night before, I can zonk out enough to avoid crying. Yay me.

So, phew, landed safely in Chicago. I had slept enough on the plane that I was able to drink a Red Bull and pull my shit together once we landed, giving us a full day of fun and games before we had to head to the airport to pick up my brother, Erik. He’d opted for the flight that went from Denver to Chicago via Minnesota, and landed during the witching hour, very nearly decapitating the BFG (Dahl reference, so I apologize to those of you whose parents didn’t love you enough to get you Dahl books from the library when you were children). What to do with our free hours?

First, we went to Argo tea. I am extraordinarily fond of Argo tea, and drink it at every possible opportunity when we’re in Chicago. This amounts to at least once a day. This trip we had it so frequently that I earned TWO free drinks on our last day. I would have been ashamed if I hadn’t been busily slurping down Argo coconut bubble tea. If you don’t live in Chicago, Argo is a tea store that is *like* a big Starbucks devoted only to cool mixed tea drinks. Like the mojitea (a green tea, non-alcoholic mojito), or the chocolate mint (nilgiri black tea with chocolate and mint milk). Their bubble tea, though, is earth-shattering. Probably because of two things: a) they use correctly-brewed tea of excellent quality and b) they use little, square, caramelized coconut jellies instead of traditional tapioca. They have a very pleasant squish-crunch-snap when bitten, and they positively RIDDLE the drink with them. Copious quantities make every slurp like Christmas day in your mouth. I miss Argo. So much. If you live in Chicago, as I know some of you do, may I gently say, “f*&# you.”

We sipped our drinks and got on a bus to the Museum of Science and Industry, where we saw a very special exhibit that was so cool I almost peed in my denim skirt a little bit.. NO! It wasn’t the farm exhibit! We played for a while on the farm exhibit while we waited. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the actual exhibit, which was the Harry Potter extravaganza. All Harry Potter things, from every film, every set, everything. All of the outfits and props and books and flying cars

this was outside the exhibit itself, so pictures were allowed. I made Chris pose with it because boys and cars go together like peas and cars

And I got sorted, by the ACTUAL SORTING HAT from the movies. It was Ravenclaw, in case you were curious. I knew it wouldn’t be Gryffindor, because I’m afraid of everything, but I was definitely worried about Slytherin. Existential self-questioning, I guess. Anyway, the exhibit was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, getting sorted was a dream come true, and I got some souvenirs that include a giant puzzle and a golden snitch. Looks like the library is going to be redecorated into Hogwarts. Oh, and Bex? I got your Christmas present there. You’ll get it if I can avoid opening it for that long.

Then we toddled around for a bit and headed home to change for dinner. I wanted to go to Trotter’s-To-Go, which is Charlie Trotter’s takeout deli/store. I was excited. I was revved. I was walking as fast as my legs could carry me. But it turns out it closes exactly five minutes after we got there. Po, po me! Instead we went to the Gaslight pub and had a decent snack of honey-mustard chicken sammich and chimichurri-soaked fries. At least, that’s what I had. I don’t remember what Chris had, except that I had to keep smacking his hand away from my chimichurri fries. Here is a small and truly hideous picture of the fries, which I am sorry for, but it’s the only food picture I took that first day. Better ones a’comin’. What was extra-great about the fries (aside from the fact that they were violently, unapologetically green) is that they were still crispy. For some reason, most fries that have toppings get soggy and repulsive, and these managed to stay crunchy and crispity and joyfully ignorant of their rich topping of Argentinian slurry. Chimichurri, for those who haven’t had it, is basically Argentinian/Uruguaian steak sauce, but has the consistency of pesto. It’s made from parsley, cilantro, garlic, sherry vinegar, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and a touch of salt, then blended up like a pesto would be. They put it on everything in sight, when they’re not busy having bank scandals.

After the Gaslight, which is located near DePaul University, we trudged back to the house, got the car, and fetched Erik. We were all so tired that we went straight to sleep, with visions of Topolabampo dancing in our heads…

So much to do!

I have about, oh, fifteen different stories I will be writing over the next week, all about the Chicago trip we returned from last night. But just so you know I haven’t forgotten you, here is a common running theme:

if you’re going to go third-grade on the picture comment, you’d better damned-well hope it’s original, or you’ll be ridiculed.

All right, stop

Collaborate and listen
Ice cream is back, it’s not a brand new invention
It’z frozen, tickles my tongue lightly
Flowin off of my spoon daily and nightly
Will it ever stop?
Yo, probably no
Take a quick look and I’ll show
You a quick recipe, that you can handle
Take a bite, it’s so rich, it’s like a scandal

These are the only ingredients you’ll need to make an ice cream that will knock your socks off, leaving your feet cold and naked, but you won’t care because you’ll be balls deep in a tub of awesome.

I had a request from the lovely Katina for a custard ice cream recipe. Here’s the kick–most ice cream starts as a custard. The ice cream that isn’t custardy is made with BS like carageenan, or is just weak sauce in general. You look at a tub of Breyers, for example, and you’ll see milk, sugar, cream….the usual suspects. But no egg. And the addition of various gums (guar, carob bean, etc). Those gums are added to create the mouthfeel of creamy thickness that’s usually achieved via egg yolks. And what do you get if you cook together dairy and egg yolk? Custard, bitches. Custard.

So if you want to make a solid ice cream, your best bet is going to be making a creme anglaise. Creme anglaise (a.k.a. vanilla sauce) is the basic sauce that adorns most fancy desserts. I’ve seen it called bourbon sauce, purchased it, and then found out it was creme anglaise and had nary a bourbon molecule in sight. Suck. But everyone should know how to make a basic creme anglaise, if only so they can fill a squeeze bottle and festoon their homemade pies with it at holiday-time.

Creme anglaise is just a stirred custard. That’s it. It’s flavored with vanilla bean, most often, but can be flavored with everything from peanut butter to blackberry to chocolate. For our purposes, we’re going old school vanilla. For my pocketbook’s purposes, we’re going with a great vanilla extract that has vanilla beans in it as well. It’s sold through King Arthur Flour, Williams Sonoma (I think), and—what luck! TJ Maxx has it on sale right now. Vanilla beans cost as much as rhino horn, so I try to use them for special occasions only.

Ice cream is a special occasion, you say? I concur. But it’s a special occasion that takes place EVERY SINGLE NIGHT at our house. Chris is a whore for ice cream. He goes nuts for the stuff, despite proclaiming periodically that he doesn’t like sweets. It’s a fat lie. Actually, I’ve never met a guy who said he likes sweets, but I’ve also never met a guy who could say no to ice cream, like, ever. Even my dad was into it, though he liked whack flavors like pistachio (barf). Hence, ice cream is not classified as a sweet in manland. Between the two of us, we polish off between one-half to one-whole pint every single night after dinner. It’s sad. I make about half of it, but then I buy the other half so I can have the chunks. It’s our policy with Ben and Jerry’s that Chris eats the ice cream and excavates the chunks, and then I get to eat them, returning the pint to him when I can no longer see any chunks. Repeat as necessary. We don’t even bother with bowls. We should probably slow it down, but it’s tradition at this point.

So I used vanilla extract. Don’t put, like, McCormick’s vanilla extract in there, though, or you’ll be sorely disappointed in the flavor. Go big or go home, says I.

One thing that was missing from my ingredients list is probably the most important thing you MUST have to make a creme anglaise (at least, according to my elderly French pastry instructor, it is)–an ice bath. Have it ready before you even begin making your creme anglaise. Why? Because creme anglaise involves eggs and heat. And what do eggs and heat like to do? They like to interact to make scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs are NOT an ice cream flavor that I’d recommend making any time soon. How do we avoid this? Well, you’ll see. But part of it involves the ability to very rapidly cool the mixture you’re creating, and to do that, you need an ice bath. And a strainer, for any egg bits that got surly on you, despite your best efforts. So, ice bath:

It’s a big bowl of ice and a touch of water, with a smaller metal bowl nested inside it. The inner bowl should be metal, for heat conductivity. The ice then surrounds the inner bowl, chilling it and its contents. It’s like magic, only it’s SCIENCE

Ingredients List:
10 oz half and half (or cream, if you’re going buck-wild)
10 oz milk
5 egg yolks (save the whites for something else. Like Italian buttercream)
6 oz sugar
1 oz glucose
2 t vanilla (or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped)
dash of salt

You may be wondering about glucose. It’s easy to find at Hobby Lobby or Michaels in the cake decorating section. It’s a natural sugar, and it’s less sweet than sucrose (table sugar). It’s main function here is to make ice cream freeze less densely, and to make a more pleasant mouthfeel. You don’t HAVE to use it, but it really does make a difference in the final product. It also works a charm for things like caramel sauce or fondant.

Measure your dairy ingredients into a large, heavy saucepan. Warm on medium heat, then whisk in glucose. Add vanilla bean if using, but don’t add vanilla extract because it’ll lose flavor as it cooks. Keep warm on stove while you assemble the next ingredients. Whisk granulated sugar into your egg yolks until lighter and somewhat fluffy.

How, bring your milky mixture to a simmer. Stay next to it, because dairy will boil over faster than you can say “oh shit! Now I have to clean the top of my stove, and it smells like burning!” As soon as it bubbles, temper in the egg mixture.

Tempering is a key step here. Tempering is bringing the eggs up to a warmer temperature gradually, so they don’t scramble. Don’t rush this step, or you’ll regret it and end up with curdled grossness instead of a lovely creme anglaise.

To temper, whisk a very small amount of your hot dairy into your eggs. Then a small amount more. Then even more, until you’ve added about half of your dairy into your eggs, and the mixture is very warm. Now, slowly whisk the egg/dairy mixture back into the pot where the rest of the hot dairy is patiently waiting. If you’ve done this correctly, the eggs won’t curdle, but will mix nicely with the milk/cream.

Once you’ve tempered in your eggs, stir the mixture with a wooden spoon over medium-low heat. DO NOT allow this to boil, or it will curdle the eggs. Just cook it gently, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it thickens. It should coat the back of a spoon as shown here (with chocolate pudding, so you could see it more easily), but not be too thick.

This coating quality is called “nappe” in French. We call it “nappy”.

Err on the side of slightly too thin, rather than overcooking the custard. The number of egg yolks affect the thickness, so you can always add or subtract egg yolks depending on your preference after you’ve tried this once.

Here’s where your ice bath comes in handy–as soon as the mixture is thickened into a lovely, viscous cream, pour it through a strainer into the bowl that’s resting in your ice bath. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon for a couple minutes, to bring down the temperature of your creme anglaise. After about 30 seconds, add your vanilla extract. Keep stirring gently until it is warm, but no longer super-hot. Add additional ice to the water bath as necessary. Don’t get any water in your creme anglaise.

Once it’s cool, put it in the refrigerator for about an hour to chill completely. This delicious nectar is creme anglaise (for ice cream purposes. If you’re making creme anglasie for saucing purposes, don’t add the glucose). It will be pretty sweet, but that’s okay because as you freeze it, you’ll lose a lot of that sweetness. Flavors lose intensity as they get colder, which is a good thing to know.

After it’s all chilled, put it in your very, very cold (freeze the container for at least 24 hours beforehand) ice cream maker and let it run about 30 minutes, until it looks like this:
Scoop it into containers (I ordered little cardboard pint containers online for this very purpose, and they’ve worked a treat).

Put it in the freezer to set up a bit more, then eat it directly out of the pint for maximum enjoyment and caloric indignity.