Recently in Dessert, Candy, Ice Cream, Etc.
Friday, July 2, 2010

buttermilk granita with strawberries in balsamic

buttermilk granita with macerated balsamic strawberries

I got my air conditioning bill the other day, raised eye brows and all, and make no mistake – summer is upon us. At the rate this summer’s going, best to prepare myself for some higher cooling costs, despite my great desire to reduce my carbon footprint. I’ve resorted to some creative solutions too: ice cold water, fans continuously on, shades drawn in the apartment. But sometimes you have no other choice, and you push that “on” a/c button. Otherwise, you walk around in a hot and sleepy stupor, dented by the heat and humidity, your environmental altruism causing you serious suffering.

mint

But, I think I have found yet another creative alternative to air conditioning and I wanted to share it with you. Friends, I’d like to meet a new buddy of mine. Its name is buttermilk granita and it’s here to stay for the summer. I think you might just become good pals with it too. It’s cold, tangy, refreshing, and requires only a dish and a whisk. That’s right, a shallow dish and a whisk only. No ice cream machine needed here. Nothing to plug in and chill for hours. Just periodic stirring with the whisk – that is all that’s required. So if you have a tiny kitchen, or don’t own an ice cream machine, but want to make a cold dessert while the summer heat is abound, this dessert here is for you. Think you can handle it?

buttermilk, sugarready, set, pour

The granita stands on its own and has a taste reminiscent of homemade frozen yogurt, but it’s lighter and tastes more like sorbet than anything else. Here, however, it’s paired with some lush strawberries that have been steeping in its own juices, a little sugar and some balsamic vinegar. Strawberries and balsamic are nothing new, of course, but when they’re paired with the buttermilk granita, it’s a whole new game. These are complementary flavors, working together to elevate one another’s notes even higher. Buttermilk tastes tangier, strawberries – sweeter. And while dessert is generally viewed as an enemy to an expanding waistline, this here little concoction is quite healthy, in fact, and tastes lighter than air – a welcome relief from some heavier desserts this long weekend will undoubtedly bring.* And you can even feel good about that carbon footprint reduction because this dessert is all over it.

macerated strawberries

Simple. Refreshing. Calming, even. And environmentally-friendly to boot. We could all use a friend like that. Don’t you think?

*[Not that I'd ever turn down pie. Ever.]

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Friday, June 11, 2010

mango sorbet

mango sorbet

You would think that it being summertime and all, I’d have an easy time tell you about mango sorbet. That’s clearly not happening. Instead of writing about mango sorbet, what I really want to do is just extend spoonfuls of it to all of you and say, “Just try this and then tell me it’s not the most amazing thing on a hot summer day!” But being that the interwebs haven’t quite figured out how to teleport frozen dessert to each of your homes (or any kind of food, really), I am left with mere words. And words, my friends, is what isn’t enough here.

mango sorbet mise

What’s probably fair to say, however, is that there are summer days, such as what we had in New York last weekend, when sorbet is the way to go, when it trumps ice cream. Stay with me here. I can hear the gasps of horror across the information superhighway – to suggest ice cream to play second fiddle! Well, I’ll be!

I promise you, I’m not one to ever dismiss ice cream. Ice cream is very sacred in my book – I’m the kind of girl who’ll be getting ready for bed, get a massive ice cream craving and change back to go outside and meet a friend for a scoop. But there are days when all I want is something cold and refreshing that happens to be not creamy. Sometimes, dairy is just a bit too much and I reach for sorbet.

mango sorbet

When I first picked up a copy of The Perfect Scoop, this mango sorbet was the first thing I book-marked. But I quickly got distracted by watermelon sorbet and frozen yogurt (Pinkberry who???) and then of course marrying vanilla with black pepper. A couple of weeks ago when I was devising a menu for one of my Sunday suppers, I saw a clear mango theme emerge and that’s when I remembered the recipe that started it all. I don’t need to tell you that David’s recipes are tried and true and are absolutely amazing – if you don’t have this book of his and you’ve been curious about making ice cream, this is a must-have.

mango sorbet

Look, this time I don’t have a fancy story for you – no ancient memory from my childhood. In Russia, we didn’t have mangos. In fact, we didn’t even have sorbet. Sherbert – yes, but sorbet is a beast unto itself. And so, because I spent the first eleven years of my life deprived of mangos and sorbet, I would think that I have to make up for a lot of lost time. Ice cream maker – get ready, we’re going to make beautiful music sorbet together!

mango sorbet

In fact, as I was writing this last night, I kept running over to the kitchen and sneaking little spoons of sorbet as a snack, hoping, in vain, that having a few spoonfuls will inspire me to write something poetic, something that will galvanize you at once to run over to your local grocer, get two ripe mangoes, and charge forth into your kitchens intent on making sorbet. Or else. I am, however, left with just mere words. Words that aren’t nearly as delicious as this frozen goodness here. You could, of course, try to lick the screen. Let me know how that works out for ya.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

indian-spiced rice pudding

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

I’ve never been much of a fancy girl. Were it up to me, I’d spend my days in jeans and tank tops. Don’t get me wrong, I clean up rather nicely, but I am at my happiest just hanging out. Getting dressed-up never feels natural. Even when I get my hair cut, I hate to have my hair blown-out, choosing instead my unruly mess of frizzy waves. My affinity for the informal is probably why I don’t yet own a single little black dress. Not one. That should soon be rectified: a wedding I’m in this year wants the bridesmaids in LBDs, so I will be shopping for one pretty soon. Anyhow, dresses are dresses and jeans are jeans and I will forever have a love affair with the latter and regard the former with a bit of annoyance. Pizza, beer, jeans, and a tanktop – and I’m one happy camper.

scraping vanilla beansarborio rice pudding with Indian spices

At least I’m consistent. As unfussy as I am about dress code, I like to apply the same to food. Comforting and soothing is something I’ll take any day over fancy and engineered. I’ve deep respect for fine, jacket-and-tie kind of dining, but were it up to me, were I running a restaurant, mine would be focused on soothing souls and nurturing the senses. I’d serve rice pudding for dessert and call it a night.

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

I think that rice pudding is just about one of the loveliest things there is out there. Like cozy wool socks, or homemade marshmallows. It’s my go-to comfort dessert, and one that I welcome this time of year with open arms. It also makes your house smell deliciously divine: sweet, warm, wintry. I prefer my rice pudding slightly warmed, but a friend of mine recently confessed to having an unhealthy addiction to eating cold rice pudding early in the morning before work. A breakfast pudding, if you will. While she felt pangs of guilt about indulging her rice pudding yen in the morning, to me – nothing sounded better because I was reared in a type of morning rice pudding in Russia. Except in Russia we didn’t call it rice pudding – we called it “risovaya kasha” or kasha made of rice. Kasha, in Russian, denoted a porridge of sorts, usually eaten for breakfast and made with a whole grain. My arch-nemesis was something called “mannaya kasha” – which, I think, in the US is called farina. I still shudder at the thought.

bayleaf

Of course, as a kid I was an impossible-to-please-picky-eater; I gagged on practically everything that was milk-based. Grass-fed cows’ milk, folks. Cows that knew not what hormones or antibiotics were. Cows that spent their days in the pasture, calmly, thoughtfully (I like to think) chewing on grasses and mulling around. And I gagged on such a thing.

I grew up in a household that thought (rightly so!) that milk equaled health; and a healthy child was what the zenith of family goals should be. Thus various milk products were force-fed down my through as if I were a foie gras goose being readied for the plumping. Breakfast was almost always a hot grain cereal: sometimes buckwheat, sometimes cream of wheat, sometimes the overcooked, glue-like oatmeal my grandmother loved to serve. And sometimes, when I was lucky, it was rice pudding. Studded with raisins and impossibly rich. I ate that with more enthusiasm than other breakfast foods mostly because the raisins served as a good distraction.

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

By the time I grew up, I kind of forgot about rice pudding and it was eating kheer at Indian restaurant a few years back that jolted my memory. After that, rice pudding was all I could think about. I made it over and over and over. I combined the Indian flavors with the more traditional pudding recipe. And added a bay leaf as it gave the rice a slightly woodsy, herbal fragrance. Sometimes, rice pudding tastes so candy-sweet, it’s almost overwhelming. I liked having a little earthiness to the smell and the bay leaf complements the sweetness rather nicely.

While I typically share my food with friends, I never shared rice pudding. It would vanish from my kitchen with lightning speed; faster than I could snap a photograph. Last year, I made this pudding, took pictures and then immediately forgot all about it. I do this a lot – forgetting to write about recipes I’ve cooked eons ago. I hope you can forgive me because this is seriously good. And comforting. And warm. And you can have it for breakfast too and not just for dessert. Wearing pajamas. Or jeans and tank tops. Or fancy black dresses. It’s totally up to you!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

orangettes

orangettes

Well, it’s Christmas Eve. And when they say “not a creature was stirring” they really do mean it. The subways this morning were empty, almost abandoned. On my way to work, the city streets were quiet, and the air just hung still. For the first time in a long time, we have snow in New York on Christmas. It feels very appropriate.

bright, pretty oranges

I don’t care what anyone says, but I’ve been listening to holiday music since Thanksgiving ended. I can’t help myself. I also can’t get enough of these orangettes; I’ve been eating them as fast as I’ve been making them, which poses a problem since I was planning to give them away as gifts. Come January 1, I’ll have to draft some resolutions: and eating fewer sweets will certainly be one of them.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

cashew brittle

salty cashew brittle

It dawned on me this weekend that Christmas is but a week away. A week. That’s seven days to be exact. Because that’s what a week is: seven days. And I had yet to start my holiday shopping. Talk about leaving things until the very last minute. And this is so unlike me, to procrastinate like this, I’m usually way ahead of schedule – I start planning Thanksgiving in July! But this year, I’ve been remiss. There’s a fatigue that’s been slowly setting in for the last few months and, somehow, I barely have enough energy for work and this lovely space here. But holidays? Presents? I am overwhelmed just thinking about it.

Truthfully, I can’t wait to turn the corner with 2010. I am itching to get the new year under way. To think of how emotionally wrought this year has been, dealing with death and cancer in the family, just to name a few things, I’m hoping that 2010 really turns around. It has to, right? Adding to that, 2009 carried with it the reverberations of markets’ turmoil of 2008 – which has been emotionally draining as well. So is it any wonder that I now wake up at 3:30am unable to go back to sleep only to hit a wall by 10am later in the morning? That tropical umbrella drink with my name on it is slightly over a week away, but it cannot come soon enough. I’m ready for some sun, sand and friends.

salty cashew brittle

But what though this year brought its fair share of stresses; it delivered beautifully in the friends department. I have met and gotten to know some truly lovely people, and as result, my world is richer, brighter and I’m evermore grateful for these blessing in my life. They are my silver linings this year. And no matter how stressful things got this year, they were my safety net, letting me know that if I fell, they would, indeed, catch me.

salty cashew brittle

So it might sound silly, but I can’t think of anything more sincere than handmade thank you gifts this season. I feel like the last couple of years, as we watched our 401k plans plummet, have really reminded us of truly valuable things: that money and physical goods can come and go, but our family and friends are the things that mean something, everything. And so for the next three days, you will see my handmade gifts unveiled here one by one. First up – the salty cashew brittle, courtesy of Karen DeMasco.

salty cashew brittle

This brittle has been floating around for a few years. I’m oftentimes not the brightest star and hadn’t realized that the recipe I used from “The Craft of Baking” was, essentially, the same recipe seen here and here. Oh and also here (I had made it and didn’t even realize it). Which should tell you just how slow I can be sometimes. But no matter. This is good, gift-worthy, indulgent. It’s the kind of thing you want to share with your friends because it’s a little decadent and fabulously festive. Simple and straightforward, you will spend half an hour on this baby and look like candy-maker extraordinaire. Decadence and simplicity in one? I’ll take some in a heartbeat.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

pear compote poached in vanilla bean and star anise

poached pear compote in vanilla bean & star anise

Oh mid-December with your mercurial weather–I cannot figure you out! Are you freezing cold with temperatures nearing zero or are you the kind of December that lingers in the forties, rainy and damp, like this morning? Do I warm up some soup and curl up with a book dressed head to toe in fleece, or do I just go into deep nesting mode and emerge outside when asparagus arrives to the greenmarket? Either way, I want to stay indoors and make lovely things in the kitchen and then eat them. Not terribly ambitious, am I? You see, inside my head, I am cooking all kinds of things for the holidays: cookies, and cupcakes, and brittles, and toffees. But in actuality, I can’t even bring myself to put the book down and wash my dirty pot from last night. I promise, I’ll do it as soon as I post this. Or after I eat some pear compote I just made.

Continue reading pear compote poached in vanilla bean and star anise.