Sugar High Friday: Spiked Lemon Ginger Sorbet
26 May 2006
Another food blogging event, another sorbet. What is it with Sugar High Friday and sorbet? I do know how to make other desserts; I promise. Really! I know that sorbets aren't as sexy as cake with bright, fluffy frosting, or dark, fudgy, toothmarked brownies. Or crisp, airy meringues that shatter between layers of whipped cream, and fruit tarts whose flaky pastry sinks beneath rows and rows of shellacked kiwis, strawberries, and peaches. Sorbets belong to the realm of palate cleansers and low-fat desserts, the token offering in the ice cream case for the dieter. They don't really belong in the same category as other desserts - or do they?
As much as I love soft, deep, rich and creamy things, full of gooey chocolate, I keep getting pulled back to the more austere world of sorbet, and I think that this sorbet, at least, is a treat worth saving for the end of a spicy summer meal.
The SHF theme this month, hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast, is ginger. Now, I love ginger. But it's another one of those ingredients that seems to belong more to winter than to summer - think gingerbread, ginger cake, sticky ginger puddings. Warm, brown, treacly things - that's what ginger makes me think of. Puddings and desserts. But it's 95 here in the Alligator Belt, and none of that would do.
So, a lemon ginger sorbet, with honey for depth, and whiskey for a little bite. This is another grownup version of a classic summertime treat: the icy lemon slushies they shake up at the state fairs and street carnivals, sweet in a sticky cup, headache-inducing and sucked too fast through a straw, standing under the hot yellow sun.
The honey gives the taste a rounded edge, and the whiskey a long, warm finish. I have been finding that sorbets really benefit from some alcohol; it keep them from freezing too hard into inedible chunks, and this one has a slushy texture that melts on the tongue in feathery flakes, tart and sweet and soft at the same time, with the taste of a spiked lemonade drained from a tall glass on a shady porch in the heat of a Southern afternoon. I kept sneaking bites from the cup in the freezer; the warm sweetness is not cloying but just right and full of the nostalgia of hot days at the fair. I served it with a honey spice cake and with or without that it is truly worthy of a Sugar High Friday.
I am setting down exactly how I made this batch, since it did turn out well. However, this is a very sweet sorbet, like lemonade; it works well as a dessert, but not so well as a palate cleanser. I would like to experiment with more lemon juice and less sugar, and maybe a little more ginger, for a cleaner taste. So, be aware that if you try it you may want to adjust the proportions to suit your own taste.
Makes about 1.5 quarts
2 cups fresh lemon juice (from about 4-6 large lemons)
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
0.5 cup honey
0.25 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons whiskey, divided
1. Juice the lemons and strain the juice into a large bowl.
2. In a saucepan, bring the water, sugar, honey, ginger and 4 tbsp whiskey to a boil.
3. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes and then let the syrup steep for an additional 15 minutes.
4. Strain into the same bowl as the juice. Stir in a pinch of salt and two more tbsp whiskey.
5. Refrigerate until chilled, preferably overnight.
6. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze for about 15-20 minutes.
7. Pack into a container and cover with plastic wrap, touching the surface of the sorbet, then cover tightly with a lid and freeze for at least three hours before serving.
The Art of Leftovers: Linguine, Bacon & Basil
23 May 2006
The art of leftovers is one of the most important skills in cooking for one. Leftovers are a double-edged chef's knife: normal recipes, unadjusted for a single appetite, can inflict days of identical meals, each bite growing less and less appetizing as the cook struggles to get through an entire deep dish lasagna, resisting the temptation to tip the rest of the blasted thing into the trash. After all, if she did, who would know? Just her guilty conscience, that's who.
On the other hand, it is deeply satisfying to bundle up the leftovers of a delicious meal and pack them away for lunch. It's satisfying on the most basic level: you've cooked and provided for yourself with a minimum of waste and now you have something good to look forward to.
Thus the art of leftovers: not too much, not too little - just enough of a meal that will be good reheated, without tricky, difficult bits that call for special equipment. Steak knives, for instance, or soup spoons. After many miscalculations and chucked out chicken breasts, I have gradually been learning to judge portions and create meals that will stretch for a day or two, but no more, and go into a box for a quick and still delicious lunch the next day.
Pasta is my current favorite in the field of lunchtime leftovers. It's cheap, fast, easy, and it accommodates endless iterations of sauces, which use up other leftovers hanging about and often actually taste better after a night in the fridge. This particular meal is dead easy, a recipe that is really just a basic technique adaptable to any schedule or number of guests, following a sturdy formula of hot fat + spices + fresh ingredients + liquid, and limited only by your own ingenuity and creativity in ingredient juxtaposition.
In this particular instantiation you sauté some bacon for a few minutes with red pepper flakes, add garlic and red onion, then chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned, if that's all you've got) and the cheap wine that's been turning to vinegar in the back of the fridge. I had quite a lot of Cabernet left over from another meal, so I just kept pouring it in and simmering it down. Go about your business and let it simmer as long as you need it to - or just ten minutes, if that's all you've got. Throw in some fresh basil near the end and serve over linguine or other pasta with heaps of fresh grated Parmesan (or the green bottle kind, if, again, that's all you've got).
I'm almost embarrassed to call it a recipe; it's a classic, ridiculously simple dinner, and it certainly made my (next) day in its neat, friendly plastic bowl. The sauce is chunky, instead of runny, so no drippy tomato to stain my work clothes. Linguine is thick and easy to eat. And the richness of flavor, with the savory notes of bacon, a little bite from the pepper, and the spicy fragrance of fresh basil heightened by long-simmered wine, all this was deepened after a night in the fridge and reheating. This is the best kind of leftovers: meals that are better twice than once.
4 strips of thick-cut bacon
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Half a red onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
A cup (or two or three) of red wine
A handful (or two or three) of fresh basil leaves
Salt to taste
1. Chop the bacon into small pieces and tip into a sauté pan over medium heat.
2. Cook the bacon slowly for about 8 minutes, until cooked through but not crispy.
3. Add red pepper flakes and toast in the bacon fat.
4. Add onion, chopped, and garlic, chopped, and cook until softened.
5. Add chopped tomatoes and red wine and simmer on low until sauce is thickened.
6. Five minutes before you want to eat, add the basil and stir until wilted. Add salt to taste.
7. Pour half the sauce over fresh-cooked pasta, cover with a thick blanket of fresh Parmesan, and enjoy.
9. Enjoy the other half the next day.
Gone Silicone: Tart citrus bites
14 May 2006
For my friends' recent baby party I also made a trio of tartlets, inspired by Chockylit and just right for a spring afternoon. Besides, I had just given in to the lure of some pretty new toys, on sale at Crate & Barrel.
I've heard a lot about the newish silicone pans, and I've looked at them thoughtfully upon several occasions, but I was skeptical about this newfangled stuff, and rather put off by the prices. Then, a couple weeks ago I was scrubbing in vain at my supposedly nonstick muffins pans and growing hotter, crankier, and more exasperated by the minute. Finally I flung the older of the two, scarred and stained, into the trash for good. I remain unrepentant about the contribution to my local landfill - tins are such a pain to clean up, twisting the scrubbie around and around in the elusive round corners of the little cups. I decided to go silicone.
So then, these beauties were on sale, and while twee tart pans hardly replace my more staid and practical muffin tins, I justified them as tools for party baking. Hopefully they would lower my workload a little, just a little, I mused. Maybe they would be just a bit easier to clean up. As I am skeptical by nature, I still expected my little pastry shells to have some problems coming out of the cups - space age material or no. Surely they would stick a little; nothing is as good as it seems, right?
Oh me oh my. What have I been missing all this time? The shells came out beautifully. More precisely, they slipped right out, leaving nothing but a light sheen of oil behind, any lumpiness due to my own heavy hand with pastry dough. And I didn't even grease them! I am now a convert, let me tell you. I'm never going back to my old muffin tins. I just pray no one morbidly declares them cancer-causing or any such thing - I wouldn't pay much attention, I'm afraid.
I filled the miraculous pastry shells with three different kinds of citrus curd, all from one basic recipe. I did add a vanilla bean to the grapefruit, which masked the grapefruit taste a little too much, to my disappointment. I was told, however, that they tasted like Dreamsicles, so they can't have been all bad - just not what I had been imagining.
I topped them all with a sugar syrup meringue, toasted in the oven. I put cardamom in the meringue for the lime tartlets, and this combination - light and sweet, green and puckeringly tart, starting off with a pinch of exotic spice and finished with a dash of crunchy salt from the shell - this was my very favorite.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
0.75 cup (1.5 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons (or more) ice water
2 tablespoons chilled whipping cream
1. Blend flour and salt in processor.
2. Add butter; using on/off turns, cut in until mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Add 3 tablespoons ice water and cream. Process just until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry.
4. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; chill 1 hour. (I made it the night before and it rolled out very well.)
Adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum's recipe, at Epicurious
4 large egg yolks
0.75 cup sugar
3 fluid oz. lemon, lime, or grapefruit* juice, freshly squeezed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons zest
1. Have a strainer, suspended over a bowl, ready near the range.
2. In a heavy noncorrodible saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon until well blended - light yellow ribbons.
3. Stir in the lemon juice, butter, and salt.
4. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for 8-15 minutes until thickened and resembling hollandaise sauce, which thickly coats a wooden spoon but is still liquid enough to pour. (A candy thermometer will read 196°F.) The mixture will change from translucent to opaque and begin to take on a yellow color on the back of a wooden spoon. It must not be allowed to boil or it will curdle. (It will steam above 140°F. Whenever steaming occurs, remove the pan briefly from the heat, stirring constantly to prevent boiling.)
5. Remove from the heat, cool, and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
* For the grapefruit I squeezed twice as much juice as I needed and boiled it down to half its original volume, in an effort to pump up the intensity of the taste. Since I was tripling the curd recipe I also added
4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
0.5 tsp cream of tartar
0.5 cup sugar
2 tbsp water
1. Let egg whites warm to room temperature, then put in the bowl of a stand mixer. The bowl and beaters must be scrupulously clean of grease.
2. Add salt and beat egg whites until foamy.
3. Add cream of tartar.
4. Beat until the whites hold soft peaks.
5. Meanwhile, heat sugar and water in a small saucepan just until boiling, then take off the heat.
6. Pour the sugar syrup into a heatproof container like a measuring glass.
7. With the beaters running, stream the sugar syrup very, very slowly into the whites.
8. Beat until they hold stiff peaks. After this it is ready to be either spooned or piped onto the tarts.
Note: I have had some trouble with meringues, and I have to say that this one is the most stable that I've ever tried. The cream of tartar helps, and the sugar syrup also slightly cooks the whites and stabilizes them, keeping them from "weeping" later. I found this technique mentioned over at bakingsheet, and it was really helpful with these since they needed to sit out at room temperature for several hours during the party.
Sunny Day Party: Cookies for a lot of people
10 May 2006
Last weekend I baked for a celebration on a sunny Saturday afternoon, a celebration for some wonderful friends and their sweet new baby. I wanted pretty things that were small and easy to eat at a reception, but not too fussy or fancy. It was an afternoon, and there were lots of kids around. So I turned to the old reliable: sugar cookies.
Sugar cookies are one of those things that vary wildly from recipe to recipe; some are crisp, others chewy and cakelike, some tender, short, and flaky, like pie crust. This one worked out well for me, so I am going to describe exactly what they are like, and under what circumstances I would make them again.
First of all, I left the dough in the fridge overnight, and when I pulled it out it had hardened, like pie dough, into a solid buttery lump. It was rock hard, let me tell you. I worked it between my hands and the rolling pin and got a marvelous upper body workout rolling it smooth.
But that was the only difficult part - once rolled they cut beautifully. No cracking or falling into crumbly bits - this dough is a dream to work with. I would make these again when I want cookies that will hold their shape in cutting and baking; it would hold even complicated or fussy shapes well. It is also an excellent dough for kids; once it's rolled out even a two-year-old can cut out cookies that won't fall apart when she tries to scrape them up. (See, I know this because a two-year-old was helping. She kept telling me to "Roll, roll, roll!")
We cut most of these medium thick, which turned out a firm yet tender cookie, with a slight give in the bite before snapping under the teeth. They were very, very buttery, but not greasy. I cut them into stars, big and little, and dozens of ridged biscuit rounds. After they baked and cooled I glazed most of them, then sandwiched some with raspberry jam and others with the hazelnut chocolate goodness that is Nutella, oozing out between the layers.
The crumb was fairly light and moist, but certainly not cakelike or soft like a looser drop cookie. These are firm, sturdy sugar cookies - the workhorse of large batches. I prefer a softer, chewier cookie normally, but they weren't too brittle or crisp. When I left the filled ones in the fridge overnight they softened marvelously with their fillings to become a slightly chewier, softer cookie, without dissolving into grainy mush. And soft like this, with chocolate and jam and a crispy glaze that shatters under the first bite, like this they are perfect.
3 cups butter, softened at room temperature for an hour
3 cups sugar
6 oz. cream cheese (3/4 of a standard cream cheese package)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. lemon zest
9 cups flour
4.5 tsp. baking powder
1.5 tsp. salt
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and add the sugar. Cream until light and fluffy.
2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until golden.
3. Add the cream cheese and again beat until well incorporated.
4. Add the flavorings and lemon zest.
5. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl then add, bit by bit, to the butter/sugar mixture. You will have chosen a large bowl for this particular recipe, I hope - mine was overflowing by this point and I ended up doing the final mix in a large plastic bag.
6. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour - preferably overnight.
7. Divide into smaller balls and roll out 1/4 to 1/8 inch thickness.
8. Bake cookies at 350 degrees F for 8-12 minutes, depending on thickness. The small, thinner ones started browning after about 8 minutes, and I didn't want these brown at all. The larger ones had a slight golden bottom after 11 minutes, which was perfect for my purposes.
9. Let cool, then store in a tightly covered container.
It is hard to quantify amounts with these; it obviously depends on how large you cut them. I got about 8 dozen, I think?
Cranberry Beans with Red Onion and Sage
8 May 2006
I am not a vegetarian, by any stretch of the imagination. I am actively in favor of lamb, chicken, beef, pork, pork in the form of bacon, pork in the form of barbecue, pork in the form of Chinese dumplings - in short, meat.
That does not mean, however, that I lack imagination or desire for other, less carnivorous options. In fact, as the heat of summer starts to press on Florida, the heaviness of hot and sticky weather is often counterbalanced by cravings for lighter vegetables - anything easy to chew, easy to cook. Less cooking means less heat, right? Besides, I do admit, most vegetables are just much better looking than your average pot roast.
See? Aren't those beautiful? Cranberry beans, or borlotti, or French Horticultural Beans. Take your pick. They burst into season, all gorgeous with magenta mottled skins. They're all over the place, still dressed in their pretty jackets, or shelled but still fresh, rattling seductively in styrofoam packets. I bought some twice now this week and cooked them gently with garlic and fresh sage from my front stoop. A little red pepper for bite, and you have a comfortable dish, soft and warm but still light and just right for one on a summer evening.
1 cup of fresh cranberry beans
Red pepper flakes to taste
About 0.25 of a large red onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
Several sage leaves, chopped
A couple sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to cover beans
Fresh grated Parmesan
1. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Sprinkle in red pepper and stir until lightly toasted.
3. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened and fragrant - about five minutes.
4. Add sage and thyme, stir, and add the beans - stirring to coat with the oil.
5. Pour in water just to cover the beans and put a lid on the pot.
6. Simmer on low for about half an hour, or until the beans are tender.
7. Remove from the heat, add salt and any extra pepper to taste.
8. Stir in a generous amount of fresh Parmesan and eat immediately, preferably with a very, very, very cold beer.