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What I read in 2018

I should’ve noted in previous annual reading lists that I typically skim non-fiction books, especially if they are cookbooks or cover travel or languages. My friend Jed wrote an excellent article about skimming content. I have so many items to read that skimming helps me to judge if I want to read a work more in depth, if I wish to purchase something as a useful reference work, or if I want to both spending additional time reading it at all. The last reason is particularly relevant to fiction and long-form comics.

As usual, the 💡 (lightbulb icon) indicates a recommendation on my part, with the exception of the shorts section.

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Summer syrups: blackberry-honey-vanilla and passion fruit-ginger

It’s getting hot here in California, so while it’s technically spring, it feeling more like summer. Here are a couple more syrups that I developed last year: blackberry with honey and vanilla, and passion fruit with ginger. We tend to use fruit syrups for sodas and other drinks, but these could also work nicely on ice cream or yogurt.

Ingredients for blackberry syrup with honey and vanilla

  • 1 pound blackberries, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup vanilla sugar
  • 1/4 cup mild-tasting honey, such as blackberry or sage
  • 1/2 cup water

Ingredients for passion fruit syrup with ginger

  • 14 ounces (400 grams) passion fruit pulp, without seeds, either frozen or fresh
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste, or minced ginger
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup water

Method

  1. Place everything in a non-reactive sauce pan, bring to a simmer.
  2. Stir every minute or two to prevent scorching. For the blackberry syrup, occasionally mash gently (I use a potato masher) to help release berry juice.
  3. Simmer for a total of 10 minutes. For the blackberry syrup — not really needed for passion fruit, unless the pulp is particularly fibrous or stringy — pour through a strainer; press the liquid out from the mixture using the back of a large spoon or spatula.
  4. Pour syrup into a glass bottle or jar, and store in the refrigerator. Yields 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups.

Garam masala

I’ve been pretty dissatisfied with the (admittedly few) garam masala mixtures I purchased (from admittedly Western/Eurocentric vendors). I think I’ve hit upon a good spice combination here. My version is sweetly aromatic with nutty overtones. Use in sauces, baking, rubs, and of course, curries. Adapted from Show Me the Curry and Serious Eats.

Garam masala

I use whole spices; they will be ground after roasting (most of) them in a pan.

Ingredients

  • 6 grams cinnamon stick
  • 6 grams cloves
  • 3 grams black cardamom pods
  • 3 grams green cardamom pods
  • 3 grams star anise
  • 3 grams black peppercorns
  • 6 grams coriander seeds
  • 6 grams cumin seeds
  • 3 grams black cumin seeds (a.k.a., nigella, kala jeera, kalonji)
  • 3 grams fennel seeds
  • 3 grams fenugreek seeds
  • 4 grams dried rose petals

Method

  1. Roast the larger spices over low-medium heat until fragrant: cinnamon, cloves, both cardamoms, star anise, and peppercorns.
  2. Spread them out on ceramic or glass plate to cool.
  3. Roast the remaining, smaller spices—except for the rose—again, until fragrant.
  4. Again, spread out on a plate to cool.
  5. When completely cool, lightly crush the cinnamon, black cardamom, and anything else more that 1cm (1/2 inch) long (or wide).
  6. Mill the spices and rose in batches, into a powder. One of those small electric coffee grinders works nicely. It won’t be as fine as store-bought spices, but that’s okay! I use a strainer to remove larger bits, which I run through the mill again.
  7. Store in an airtight container, preferably glass.

Brioche

The stand mixer makes quick(er) work of brioche. I use some sourdough starter for flavor, as well wholegrain flours. This recipe is dedicated to Jeremy F., who has requested it.

Brioche

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Lime and mint syrup

I had an accumulation of limes sitting on our counter, and rather than squeezing them one or two at a time to make citrus water or soda chanh, I made lime-mint syrup. It’s easy: make a concentrated simple syrup, add flavorings, infuse, filter, then store. I’d imagine that this syrup would also work in cocktails and desserts like sponge cakes and fruit. 🙂

Ingredients

  • 2 cups granulated sugar; I use organic cane sugar from Trader Joe’s.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
  • zest and juice of enough limes to yield 3/4 cup juice — about 8 (give or take) limes
  • a fistful of spearmint leaves, washed and roughly chopped

Method

  1. Place the sugar and water into a sauce pan and heat until simmering. Stir and simmer until all sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool so it isn’t too hot to the touch.
  2. Meanwhile, put the chopped mint into a quart glass jar.
  3. Once cool enough, zest the limes over the sugar syrup.
  4. Stir in the lime juice, the pour the syrup into the jar.
  5. Cap off the jar, and let it steep in the fridge for 2 to 5 days.
  6. Filter off the solids: I use a fine meshed strainer lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth.
  7. Store the resulting lime-mint syrup in a well-sealed bottle (or jar) in the fridge.

What I read in 2017 (plus some video)

For 2017’s list, in order to spare my hands and fingers a bit, I’m no longer swapping the (primary) writer’s last name. Content remains in alphabetic order by creator last name, though.

In the future, however, I may discontinue listing DNF (did not finish) items, except for exceptions where I would want to revisit. With samples and previews readily available in ebook form, I’ve been able to whittle down my ginormous TBR (to be read; 1,000+ on Goodreads alone!) list but simply not continuing with those that don’t hold my interest.

As usual, 💡 (lightbulb icon) indicates a recommendation on my part, with the exception of the shorts section.

To jump to a section:

(Continued)

Mexican chocolate + coffee + cajeta ice cream

This ice cream has three strong flavors that work well together: Mexican chocolate, coffee, and cajeta (the latter is like dulce de leche, but made with goat’s milk). Before you think that this might be too overwhelming, consider how the roasted bitterness of the coffee, along with the tanginess of the cajeta, nicely complement the sweet spiciness of the Mexican chocolate. It’s wonderful as a float or shake, especially during hot weather

Mexican choco coffee cajeta ice cream, out of the machine

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Gianduja, or hazelnut-chocolate ice cream

Hazelnut and chocolate remains one of my favorite food combinations. So both in ice cream, often found in Europe, forms the perfect summer treat. Gianduja is a bar or spread made of ground hazelnuts, chocolate, sugar, and milk — you can find bars or discs of them online or in stores that specialize in baking or European goodies. Callebaut and Valrhona produce gianduja in blocks for cooking.

gianduja ice cream

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Black sesame ice cream

Black sesame, or kuro goma (黒ごま), is used in several Japanese sweets. I especially love it in creamy puddings, including ice cream. If you want a goth dessert, eat this frozen, grey delicacy. 🙂

Swirling the custard.
black sesame custard 1

Custard mixed, ready for the ice cream maker.
black sesame custard 2

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Vanilla ice cream (v2.0)

Edited to update ingredients. Summer-ish weather is upon us, which means it’s time for ice cream. Here is a simple recipe for vanilla ice cream, made with vanilla sugar.

vanilla ice cream

Goes well with fresh fruit (cherries! apricots in a few weeks!), raspberry liqueur, maple syrup, and soda floats. This recipe yields about a quart. (Continued)