Tuesday, June 17, 2014

One Great recipe and a cookbook giveaway

When the cookbook "Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts," the second by ice cream maker Jeni Britton Bauer, I had to crack the cover and smile.

While touring with my books "Pecans" and "Bourbon" in the Savor the South cookbook series, I had the chance to make two fall trips to Nashville, for the Southern Festival of Books put on by Vanderbilt University. The first time, I rushed into town in the middle of a long list of weekend trips, with no time to make food-travel plans. I only knew two things: I needed to try the famous Nashville hot chicken (fried chicken coated with an unholy amount of cayenne pepper) and I had heard the famous Jeni's ice cream, based in Ohio, had established a major presence.

No car, no directions, no time to plan. But I got lucky: The downtown festival site had food trucks, including one from Bolton's Hot Chicken and one from Jeni's. I quenched the heat of the chicken with a half-and-half cup of Jeni's brambleberry and bourbon butter pecan.

Last fall, I planned better. I rented a car, included a free afternoon in my schedule, and made it to the original Prince's Hot Chicken. That night, I drove a group of cookbook authors and editors, including Sandra Gutierrez of Cary ("Latin American  Street Food"), Miriam Rubin ("Tomatoes") and Belinda Ellis ("Biscuits"), to a local restaurant called Silly Goose.

Who knew? Silly Goose, in East Nashville, turned out to be right next door to a Jeni's Scoop Shop. With six of us, we could sample and share a ridiculous amount of Jeni's, including her "gravel" toppings.

The new book is a great collection. Yes, it has ice cream recipes, but it also has cakes and cookies you can use with ice cream -- and it has a collection of her cookie-like gravel toppings. You can use them to dress up storebought ice cream, or sprinkle on anything that needs a hit of sweet crunch.

In honor of the fun I've had visiting Nashville, I'll give away a copy of the new book. To enter, email me at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com with "Jeni" in the subject line. I'll announce a winner Friday. And in the meantime, make some gravel. It's simple, and the uses are endless.

Salty Graham Gravel

From "Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts," by Jeni Britton Bauer.

1 cup finely ground graham crackers (from about 10 crackers)
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt (or kosher salt)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

PREHEAT oven to 275 degrees.

COMBINE the graham cracker crumbs, flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Add the butter and stir until large lumps form and all the dry ingredients are moistened (it should look like lumpy wet sand). Pour the crumbs onto a baking sheet and spread evenly.

BAKE the crumbs for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss the crumbs with two bench scrapers or metal spatulas, then chop into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces.

RETURN to oven and bake 10 minutes longer, or until gravel is a rich brown. Remove from oven and cool. Store in airtight container for several days, or freeze for longer storage. Sprinkle on ice cream, puddings, pie with whipped cream toppings or anything else where you need a hit of salty sweet crunch.

YIELD: About 2 cups.