Experiment the First
I've always loved the Jordan Pond House Cookbook's "Lemon Supreme" recipe. It's ridiculously simple, and delicious. But it's also ridiculously high in fat -- it contains an entire tub of sour cream. Also, I'd tried, a couple times in the past, adding some Cointreau, to enhance the overall flavor profile and try to get more zing out the alcohol-soluble flavor compounds in the zest, and I'd found that something about this (either the extra liquid, or perhaps the alcohol) inhibits the "gelling" process that happens with the acid and sugar and dairy.
So, last weekend, I decided to make something vaguely like a lemon panna cotta:
To start, line a large strainer with cheese cloth, place over a pot, and dump in a quart of plain whole-milk yogurt. Allow whey to drain, stirring every 10-15 minutes. When the yogurt reaches the consistency of sour cream (which for me, with some Trader Joe's Greek Style yogurt, took about three hours, and reduced the volume by ~20%), dump it into a large bowl.
(You can start this next part when the yogurt is getting close to done -- say, when it's been straining for 2.5 hours.) In a small pot, combine 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, the zest of the lemons you juiced, and 1/2 cup of some interesting liquer. (We used Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka. The alcohol brings out the flavor of the zest, and a fair bit of it cooks out.) Warm the pot over low heat, enough to get it steaming, and maybe even developing some small bubbles, but do not bring it to a real boil. Once hot, add one packet of gelatine (I was just using the classic Knox stuff), and stir vigorously to dissolve. Allow to cool.
Mix the lemon-liquer-gelatine, the yogurt, and one and a half cans of sweetened condensed milk. (You don't have to be precise about measuring the half-can. I just used the second half of a can I had in the fridge for coffee. You might even be able to get away with just one can. A large spoon works best for the mixing. I tried "folding" it together, the way you would with an egg-based custard, and that just didn't work well.)
At this point, you need to chill the mixture, to set it. If you want to serve it at a nice dinner party or something, you can pour it into individual serving cups and plastic-wrap them, but I just put the whole big mixing bowl in the fridge with one piece of wrap. It sets up well enough to serve after 3-4 hours, and interestingly, continues to harden over several days -- again, I'm sure there's some chemistry magic going on. (I know alcohol can inhibit gelatin, but maybe it doesn't actually prevent it from reaching its full gelling power, just slows it down?) We ate small servings for dessert every night for most of a week. One night we even got some berries to toss over it. YUM.
For something that is arguably on the healthy side (high in protein and vitamin C, not too terribly high in fat), if rather sugary, it tastes impressively decadent. I think the de-wheyed yogurt trick may come in handy in future -- you could probably sub that in for sour cream in quite a few recipes. Oh, and you can store the whey in a jar, and use it as part of the liquid for a hot cereal.
ETA 10/17/2013: If you use a quart of Greek yogurt, which is already thick enough to not need de-wheying, you can scale up the lemon-liquer mixture to a bit more than a cup, and use three lemons instead of two. Also: Crème de Violette is a really good liquer for this purpose.
Experiment the Second
I'd been meaning, for quite some time, to try a miso-based salad dressing. Roommate E~ bought a big tub of white miso, then decided he didn't like it, so we've inherited it. (The first thing we did with it was dump a big dollop into the water we were boiling hunks of turkey carcass in -- leftovers we brought home from mickle's T-day party -- along with assorted veggies. That made an excellent soup.)
My friend philipgelb_blog does a bunch of dressings where white miso is the main binding agent. (I usually use either lots of mustard, or Simply Organic salad dressing packets, which contains organic xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is, incidentally, really fascinating stuff, but is not the topic of this post. I've also done yogurt-based dressings from time to time, vaguely similar to tzatziki, but with more kick.) We happen to have both pomegranate vinegar and pomegranate juice concentrate (also known as pomegranate molasses) around, so I thought I'd give that a try. I didn't feel like actually getting out the blender and doing the dressings with whole garlic cloves or shallots blended in.
Instead, in my 1-cup measuring cup, I used a whisk to beat a big spoonful of the miso (probably 3 Tbs) with some of the pom vinegar, poured it into the dressing cruet, then "rinsed" the cup with some additional vinegar (so as not to waste the miso). Added a couple tablespoons of the pom concentrate to intensify the pomegranate-y flavor, a splash of an aged balsamic for sweetness and depth, a splash of lemon juice for bright acidity, and some walnut and olive oil. Spiced with powdered onion, garlic, mustard, black pepper, ginger, and marjoram (which I chose because of the jars I pulled out of the spice drawer to sniff, it seemed like the thing that smelled most similar to sumac, which is what Persian cuisine would pair with pomegranate and walnut oil). Shook vigorously, and served over a nice salad (greens, raddichio and napa cabbage, carrots and daikon, cauliflower, beets, walnuts and pecans, a bit of parmesan, and some multigrain toast torn into croutons).
I think this might have been even better if I'd had some walnut butter around, to up the nuttiness. I would've cut the miso a bit, mixed the walnut oil with the walnut butter and beaten it til it was runny, then combined that with the pom-miso mixture. (We only have peanut butter currently, which would not be right at all. I guess pecan or cashew might work.)
In any case, it's different from my usual vinaigrettes. Will definitely experiment with it again at some point. Maybe I'll actually do something with fresh vegetation blended in next time, like the lemon-poppyseed dressing.