Recently in Dessert, Candy, Ice Cream, Etc.
Monday, September 28, 2009

wine-stewed prunes & mascarpone

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Meet my new favorite dessert. Come over and say hello. No, really, take a good look at it, take it all in. Wine stewed prunes, folks. Yes, that’s right, my new favorite dessert is something that doctor might prescribe older folks for, well, lack of better word, regularity.

in watery winewine gets thick and luxurious

I know it seems perfectly unbelievable that something as, um, boring as prunes can go from Cinderella to belle of the ball in forty-five minutes flat. I would’ve never even considered it were it not for a recent meal at Frankie Spuntino, one of my all time favorite haunts, a place considered by some as the most important restaurant in New York City.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Usually, I am too full to look at dessert, but last time, I wanted to see what the offerings were and let me tell you, I’ve been missing out! These red wine stewed prunes topped with the creamiest of mascarpone around, was about the most stunning dessert I’ve had in a long long time. Its simplicity is what astounds me the most.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Luisa waxed poetic about them some time ago, and I’ve had the New York Times recipe bookmarked for ages (and yet never made the connection!) and I suppose it’s time for me to throw my hat in because these are incredible! The dessert is both comfort food and haute cuisine. Something about the thickened, reduced wine, infused with nothing more but sugar and two cinnamon sticks with prunes that absorb these flavors, takes you from pedestrian to decadent. And as we are very clearly entering fall season, eating this at the end of your meal is just about the coziest, most lovely thing you can do. Like pulling a nice woolly sweater over your head and just settling into the fuzzy warmth.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

And though I know we’ve been cheated of a proper summer, I am welcoming fall with open arms. When at the end of a long day, I can sink into my couch holding a bowl of these prunes in my hands, I don’t even think of shorter daylight hours or the sweaters I’ll have to eventually unearth. This alone will be enough to carry me through the darkest and coldest of seasons. And I hope it does the same for you.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

sour cream ice cream

sour cream ice cream

Perhaps, I aught to file this under “how to charm me”. Perhaps I should go no further than tell you that should you whisper sweet nothings mentioning such things as sour cream into a Russian’s ear, that they just might be yours forever. Or maybe just enough for you to charm them more. In any case, you are guaranteed to get their undivided attention. Or at least my undivided attention. I stop in my tracks where sour cream is concerned. At the moment, as I write this, two whole tubs of it rest comfortably in my fridge. Judge me if you will, but sour cream, to me, is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

eight. egg. yolks. [deep breath]

Sour cream is the Russia’s answer to pretty much everything. The topping of choice to entrees like stuffed cabbage, the dressing to many a salad, the dollop you whirl in your soup. It’s tangy, irresistibly clean and fresh and, this part I find utterly seductive, it’s sensual and luscious. It’s yogurt, but with a more sophisticated, fuller body. In Russia, if you were lucky enough to get your hands on sour cream that came from a someone’s farm home, you knew what you had on your hands. Thick, cream-yellow, buttery, it was the equivalent of dairy gold. We would spread it on bread and I would eat it with my eyes closed. I know, the way I describe growing up in Russia, you wonder why we ever left. Thick, golden sour cream on thick black bread? If there’s heaven on earth, this was it.

sour cream ice creamsour cream ice cream
sour cream ice creamsour cream ice cream

So you have to understand my excitement, when I came upon a recipe that suggested I take my favorite condiment and use it to make ice cream. With eight egg yolks. Yes, my friends. Let’s take that in one more time. Eight. Egg. Yolks. I can feel my knees getting weaker as I type this. Sour cream and egg yolks married together, infused with a whole vanilla bean and cream. It’s as if Gourmet magazine read my innermost thoughts.

sour cream ice cream

And while I think this ice cream is just the bees’ knees just as it is, you could raise it up a notch and try is as a sundae. It’s almost like your traditional vanilla ice cream, except the sour cream gives it that indelible tang, which I find a great deal more refreshing than plain vanilla ice cream – in this summer heat.

sour cream ice cream

Besides, what else is there to do in this heat wave, but to make ice cream? You can see, I’ve been cooling myself off with this stunner and sometimes, even boiling water for pasta is too much. At the rate I’m going, churning batches of ice cream out with regularity, my little ice cream machine is just not cutting it. And I’ve been seriously contemplating graduating myself to a more sophisticated model. Because you know, I totally deserve it. And lest you think I am being totally selfish, I will have you know that I gladly share my ice cream with friends who drop in. Especially friends bearing cookies.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

black pepper ice cream

black pepper vanilla ice cream

I remember the first time I had vanilla ice cream infused with peppercorns. I was in France for the first time, backpacking for nearly four weeks as a prelude to moving to New York to start work for a big investment bank. My friend and I have been making our way down from Paris all the way down to the French riviera and were spending a few days in Nice. My first impressions of Nice were less than favorable. I found the city disagreeable especially after traipsing around Nantes, La Rochelle, the Bordeaux region (St. Emilion, be still my heart), Avignon and many others in between. Nice was chalk full of tourists, like a tightly packed can of sardines, and I suddenly felt as if we were no longer in France. I was also a little on the tense side, nearing the end of my traveling funds, every franc carefully considered and measured.

crushing the peppercornsinfusing the custard

A combination of heat, poverty and an overabundance of Russian tourists made me slightly cranky towards Nice. Also, it was hot, humid, our hotel room didn’t have any air conditioning and when we inquired about a fan, the hotel proprietor yawned and recommended we take frequent showers and sleep au naturel. Yes, he actually said that. So, poor and sweaty, I was in quite a state. Nothing helped – not even the salade Ni├žoise which was sheer perfection, but it was going to take more to draw me out of my misery. (Even as I write this, I can’t help but roll eyes at myself. My goodness, miserable while on vacation in France? What a spoiled brat I must sound like!) My poor traveling companion had to make do with my grumpy mood and put up with my sulking.

yolks!whisking the yolks

On the third day of skulking about, I decided enough is enough and ventured to check out Vieux Nice, a beautiful, older part of the city with brightly colored buildings and tiny weaving streets. It was there that I discovered this ice cream cafe in the middle of the plaza – now realizing it was the famous Fennochio’s ice cream parlor, which apparently makes over 200 different flavors. If memory serves me right, and I hope I’m not making this up, but the proprietor of the store told me they made around 70 different ice cream flavors on that day alone. I had choice overload. I was smitten with all the flavors available. There is that moment when too much choice makes your decision-making difficult. My travel buddy selected a boule of pistachio and a boule of orange flower. I went with lavender, and also pink-peppercorn vanilla. I know it’s a bit cliche to use Julia Child’s sole meuniere experience as an example here, what with the movie opening in a few days, but that’s sort of the closest I can come to in giving an example that mirrored my own experience. The flavors were magnificent; it was like nothing I expected. I still remember swirling that first spoonful in my mouth, my eyes closed as I tried to take everything in. And in a few moments, and a few spoonfuls later, I was happy, smiling, completely blissful and my misery evaporated instantly.

press the pepper down to extract flavor

I realize that the recipe below is for black peppercorn ice cream and what I had in Nice was pink peppercorn, which are totally different flavors. But the point is that the infusions of peppercorns in my vanilla ice cream, woke up my palate. At 22, I hadn’t thought of combining flavors like pepper with a sweet one of ice cream. Even after sampling chili-infused dark chocolate, I hadn’t made the link. That afternoon at the plaza made me reconsider the whole flavor palete and how unexpected notes combine to create something lovely and elegant. While plain vanilla ice cream, done well, is nothing short of spectacular, vanilla ice cream with infused with pepper (black or pink or white) takes vanilla to a whole new level. Think of it as vanilla in fourth dimension. Notes and depth comes out that otherwise you might not have been aware of before. And the nice warm sensation in the back of your throat is an added bonus.

smooth and creamy

I had filed that experience into the archives of my mind and hadn’t given it much thought until I spied the recipe in David Lebovitz’ ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop. And just like that, the memory came rushing back, and the flavors I remembered tasting returned. Luckily, I managed to find the missing part to my ice cream maker, and felt it my duty to relive the experience that so many years ago changed the way I taste. I prefer the black pepper to the pink pepper flavor, personally, as the latter gives a more flowery aspect to vanilla, whereas the former has an earthier, spicier note.

And I assure you, if you have a case of the grumpies, try this rather holistic remedy. I guarantee smiles and bliss within minutes of consumption, and to save you the trouble of learning the hard way, you might want to make a double batch, in case your guests don’t understand your unwillingness to share.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

lemon cheesecake squares with fresh berries

lemon cheesecake squares

I cannot believe how long it’s taken me to tell you about these cheesecake squares. I mean, please don’t be mad, but it’s been almost two months. While I thought that this summer will be a leisurely season for me to cook and lounge, I could not have been more wrong. Aside from summers being typically full of parties and picnics, I managed to get myself in a tizzy over a move.

whole foods - i should have made them

You see, and now that I’m in a fabulous new apartment I can speak freely: my former landlord tried to raise my rent, then lowered it by a laughable (and I mean, laughable amount and then proceeded to ignore my attempts at communication (that’s five unanswered voice mail messages) only to drive me irreversibly annoyed. And once I get annoyed, it is on! I decided that leaving all the power in unresponsive landlord hands was not my style (I am not one to sit and passively observe) and found an apartment that delivered everything that my current one did, and then some: an elevator, built-in air conditioning, ample closet space, laundry on each floor, a dishwasher (swoon!) and a kitchen that made me weak in the knees from the moment I saw it. Not to mention, it was simply bigger. Much bigger. If there was ever love at first sight, this was it.

cream cheese - YUM!after some pounding... crumbs

And so, I spent a good chunk of July packing and then unpacking. In fact, a mere two week after my move, I only have one box sitting by the entrance. I’d say, without giving myself too much credit, I did fairly well. So, while I had all the best intentions to tell you about these amazing cheesecake squares, I didn’t just want to post the recipe along with pictures and a single missive – just go and make these – now; I wanted to tell you the most important part: the crust.

melting butter, swoonthe crust

Be warned – making this crust is a dangerous thing, indeed. Dangerous, because as you start melting the butter with the graham cracker crumbs, you will have a formidable urge to take the entire pan, walk over to the couch, and devour the the crumbs alone scrapping the whole cheesecake endeavor. Such were mine temptations and I was strong enough to resist. But I will tell you, it was a tough choice. Of course, seeing as I promised to bring a dessert to a party, and initially promised cheesecake lollipops. But, a week prior I managed to sustain multiple stress fractures in my foot from running, so schlepping to a store a few block away all to find lollipop sticks was challenging. Hell, walking two flights of stairs in my former walk-up of a residence was a challenge, never mind traversing a few blocks. So I negotiated with my friend – cheesecake, but not quite of the lollipop variety.

pouring the cream cheese mix

Apparently, cheesecake seems like an intimidating thing to make. But this recipe – really, couldn’t be easier. The whole thing came together in no time at all. Which was lovely, since I hopped about my kitchen on one foot and longed to sit on the couch instead. I’m pretty certain that it would go even faster should decide to use both feet for this endeavor. Unless, of course, you like a challenge.

lemon cheesecake squares

lemon cheesecake squares

Continue reading lemon cheesecake squares with fresh berries.

Monday, May 4, 2009

strawberry shortcake

strawberry shortcake

Strawberry shortcake is a curious thing. When I think of it, I see Fourth of July picnics, clambakes and gingham tablecloths. I envision pitchers of lemonade, potato salad and cole slaw; corn on the cob, hot dogs and kosher pickle spears. Strawberry shortcake is a bona fide summer meal – the kind that comes with 90 degree weather and fireworks. Of all dessert out there, it’s the one that says to me, summer is here, get your picnic blanket out and put on some Joe Cocker. I’m not sure why, but Joe Cocker makes me think of summer and lazy afternoons and tall, tumblers of lemon ice tea covered with tiny beads of moisture.

But strawberry shortcake to me doesn’t just say summer – it says a summer gathering, a party, a congregation of friends and family.

strawberry shortcake

So why, if this is such a thing of summer, did I make strawberry shortcake in the middle of April and for an Easter dinner of all occasions? You’re probably also wondering what on earth I was doing making an Easter dinner to begin with, but bear with me for a moment. There’s a perfectly logical and valid explanation for all this and as usual, my life always offers a bit of a comedy of errors element. You see, over a particular IM chat, I offered to make dinner for a friend the weekend after Easter, but what he heard was “the weekend of Easter holiday”. Better yet, I became aware of this broken telephone mishap while talking to his brother who thanked me for providing his sibling with an Easter feast. By the time I put the pieces together in my head, I figured, why not. And an Easter dinner was on.

strawberry shortcakestrawberry shortcake

For those of you who’ve never made your own shortcake, I implore you – please do. Shortcake is incredibly easy to make, I can’t think of a single way where it might go awry for you, so if you’re a beginner this is a particularly great recipe to start on. I promise you this much – once you have a made-from-scratch strawberry shortcake, you will never go back to the semi-homemade version again. It’s just one of those perfect meals, the kind that makes you involuntarily close your eyes in bliss the second the food touches your tongue. Personally, strawberry shortcake makes me weak in the knees, the same way say, Robert Plant’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” makes me weak in the knees – a little smiley, woozy, intoxicated, dizzy.

strawberry shortcake

It’s an added bonus that almost no one I know dislikes strawberry shortcake. Besides with the temperatures fluctuating from mid-forties to mid-nineties, when does winter end and summer begin? I figured at this rate I might as well make the strawberry shortcake and just maybe this would help to usher warmer weather in. It’s been wishful thinking thus far, but I’m hopeful.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

spicy marshmallows

spicy marshmallow gingebread men

I’ve never been much of a marshmallow person. Never one to put them in my hot cocoa, never one to make that traditional sweet potato dish with the marshmallow topping. On camping trips, I flirted with smores, but the only attractive marshmallow part was the singed sides carefully tucked between pieces of chocolate and graham cracker.

While in middle school, I joined the Girls Scouts and in one of our numerous activity/bonding sessions which included sewing on button and singing campfire songs (just a few of the reasons that convinced me I could never make it as a sorority sister) we made peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches. These sandwiches made me gag and even though Fluff is made in the town where my parents live and I grew up, I could not love it then and I cannot love it now.

spicy marshmallowsspicy marshmallows
spicy marshmallowsspicy marshmallows

Through years, I carefully avoided marshmallows in my food. The packaged ones held zero appeal to me. And I was never tempted to give handmade ones a go. Certainly, they looked tempting enough, like billowy clouds in myriad of stunning pastel colors, magical in their shiny cellophane. But I just assumed it was all a trick – and that when I bit into them, I’d find the same disappointment of their mass-produced cousins.

Boy, was I wrong. And I’ve got some lost time to make up for. A homemade marshmallow is the kind of thing that makes you forget your troubles, carries you to a magical place. It is like tasting a little flavored cloud, so impossibly airy and light, so soft and sweet. Nothing could possibly stop you from smiling when you bite into one of these things. Any bad day is instantly brightened with one of these.

spicy marshmallows in their role as gingerbread men

But beware, if you are a packaged marshmallow lover, this might ruin you forever. You might just have to make them from scratch from this day on, because one bite – and you could be goner. For me, I know that these will be made over and over, dropped in cocoa, eaten with abandon on their own, or, sneakily added to a certain soup which will make an appearance tomorrow.

Continue reading spicy marshmallows.