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SciFriday: My food is problematic

Oh Firefly; the lost love of any geek who knows a thing or two about what makes a good, nay, a great space opera.  It has been over a decade now, ten years, since the show was debuted, mismanaged and lost to the sound of broken nerd-hearts worldwide.  You’d think we’d be over it by now but the plethora of comments across the verse, er, internet frequently show calls for the revival of the show.  “Bring Back Firefly!” echoing…almost like a star that has died centuries ago yet we still see its light moving through the night sky.  Kind of fitting I guess.

Today happens to be “International Browncoat Day” or “U-Day” aka Unification Day within Firefly canon.  Previously established to be in May/June but Nathan Fillion, who I suppose we’ve made the expert on the subject, announced that it was in fact September 20th on his twitter a while back and the date has stuck.  It seemed only fitting to celebrate this year as it falls on a SCIFRIDAY and so I looked at my list of various foods I’ve been inspired to make by the show.  It’s hard to pick a favorite episode, I still think “Out of Gas” is mine, but “The Message” is probably a close second.  In case you’ve forgotten this episode features:

  • The very first appearance of a cunning hat
  • The only Jew in space aside from Mr. Universe
  • One of the most quotable River Tam lines (discussed below)
  • Jonathan M. Woodward as Tracy – Woodward has previously also been on Angel and Buffy.   On Buffy “Conversations with Dead People” he was a particularly devious vampire who psychoanalyzes Buffy. On Angel Woodward was in a multi-episode arc as the villainous laboratory assistant responsible for the…hostile takeover of Illyria.

But I also love this episode because it had one of the most beautiful moments in the series run.  Mal and Zoe are picking up their mail and discover to their dismay that in the bundle is a dead body.  A fallen Browncoat (Tracy) who requested that his body be delivered to the only people he can trust so that it can be safely returned home to his family.  The moment when the entire crew stands gathered, listening to his farewell recording is a really beautiful shot.  As it turns out this episode was actually the last one filmed, even though it isn’t the last in the season, and it was filmed after the announcement to cancel the show was released.  So the reason that the cast delivers such poignantly crafted delivery for their various incarnations of mourning isn’t just talent, this was their filmed farewell to the series.  Even the music was composed with this in mind.

Plus it features one of the most meme-able River Tam moments of the series: My food is problematic.

Duh.  I had to finally try my hand at mixing up some ICE PLANETS.  They are seemingly simple enough after all.  It’s just a ball of ice cream on string and a stick.  Any kid who has packed a snowball should be able to do it…right?  Except ice cream isn’t like snow.  Snow can be handled and compacted down tightly and retain its shape.  Ice cream wants to melt much faster and how was I going to make a perfectly spherical shape?  The solution was actually incredibly simple: I used a whiskey ball mold!  After mixing up my recipe I just scooped the soft serve into the mold, wrapped it up and froze it overnight.  For the ice cream flavor I went with Kaylee’s favorite: strawberry.  I also wanted a lower fat recipe because the higher fat ice creams are softer at colder temperatures, so I used a lower volume of cream and replaced milk as traditionally used with tangy buttermilk.  The result was an ice-cream/frozen yogurt hybrid that is shockingly addictive.  Unfortunately the only thing harder than eating the damn things are photographing them!

Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Planets

an Olivia Original

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 16 oz strawberries
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Hull the strawberries and place in a saucepan with about 1 Tbsp of your sugar sprinkled on top.  Over low heat cook for about 15 minutes until the strawberries soften and begin to release juices.  Pour into a blender and whir until pureed.  Set aside.

Wash out the pan and add in the heavy cream and buttermilk.  Cook over medium just until it starts to simmer—you do not want the liquid to boil.  While this heats whisk together the remaining sugar with the egg yolks in a large bowl until the yolks are paler in color and fully blended.  Whisk in the vanilla extract here.

Gently pour in about a third of your heated dairy, slowly, into the egg mixture whisking constantly.  Once it is uniformly warmed you have successfully tempered your eggs–this means you’ve brought them to a higher temperature without letting the proteins clump and coagulate.  Pour this back into the pan and cook, whisking constantly, until it is thick enough that it coats the back of a spoon.  If you can run your finger across the coating without the liquid running back into it, you are done.  Again do not heat so high that it boils at any point.

Mix in strawberry puree, remove from the heat and chill your custard overnight.  This will not only allow the flavors to meld but ensure a better freeze.

Prepare in your ice cream machine as recommended by the instructions.

To form the Ice Planets:

Scoop out your soft, fresh ice cream into the molds and place a string in the center of the bottom half.  Press down and chill for 24 hours before unmolding.  Watch with mad scientist glee as your roommate or friends try to eat these contraptions.

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