Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Minted Black Currant Sorbet

I didn’t think there was such a thing as too much dessert. But with summer in full swing and my complete inability to resist the season’s glorious fruit and berries, we have reached the limit around here. The two of us simply have not been able to keep up with all of the goodies I’ve been inspired to whip up. I have resorted to throwing dinner parties, not for the company but for the extra mouths to feed, sending sweets with the husband to work, and simply giving it away. And my freezer’s still stuffed full of desserts and their various components.

So when I was considering what to make with the rest of the incredibly ripe black currants from our very own currant bush before they went bad, I knew it had to be something that would keep until we had room in our bellies. (And until the husband returned from his business trip to Taiwan—after all, I didn’t want to have to eat all of it by myself!) My solution? Sorbet, of course! I made the sorbet and froze it without even bothering to churn it. Yesterday I thawed out the giant popsicle and churned it. Why all the freezing and refreezing? I love to eat homemade sorbet the day it’s churned, when the texture is at its best. The timing couldn’t have been better—we had a record high of 106 degrees yesterday, and the refreshment was desperately needed.


Minted Black Currant Sorbet
Printable Recipe

2 pounds black currants
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup packed mint leaves
1 cup water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Puree the currants in a food mill using the finest disc. If the puree has seeds, strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove them. Combine the sugar, mint, and water in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and stir in the currant puree and lemon juice. Chill over an ice bath until ice-cold. Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. Transfer to a container and freeze for 4 to 6 hours before serving.

Makes about 1 ½ quarts. A good sorbet is always refreshing, but the mint makes this one even more so. A small scoop would make a fantastic palate cleanser between courses in a rich meal. Another serving idea: Frozen Kir Royales.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Too Hot to Cook


Forecast: a week of 100-degree temperatures. Back when I lived in Texas, I would’ve though nothing of it. But now I am acclimated to the mild temperatures, endless drizzle, and pale skin of the Pacific Northwest. So this kind of forecast puts the fear in me. If anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be in the refrigerator.


Carrot & Garbanzo Bean Salad
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated ginger
½ teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces carrots, shredded
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together the lemon juice, ginger, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and oil in a small bowl. Toss together the carrots, garbanzo beans, onion, cilantro, and dressing in a large bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately.

Serves 4. Healthy and light and refreshing for the summertime. Use sweet, colorful heirloom carrots if you can find them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Black Currants and Purple Lemonade


I desperately needed refreshment after I spent 2 hours picking every single last currant off the bush in the backyard on a 95-degree afternoon. This Purple Lemonade did quite nicely.


OK, so maybe it’s fuchsia. But black currants make me think purple. Also, I didn’t want it to be confused with pink lemonade made with strawberries or raspberries.

Purple Lemonade
Printable Recipe

12 ounces black currants
1 ¾ cups sugar
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 quarts plus 1 cup water
1 ¼ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice

Puree the currants in a food mill using the finest disc. If the puree has seeds, strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove them. Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and 1 cup of the water in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool. Stir in the lemon juice and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Stir together the currant puree, lemon mixture, and remaining 2 quarts of water in a large pitcher. Serve over ice.

Makes about 3 quarts. For sparkling Purple Lemonade, substitute soda water for half of the second quantity of water.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cherry Season and Sour Cherry Galettes


When I told my mother that we had gone cherry picking, she cursed at me. After I told her that we got loads of sour cherries too, she threatened to hang up the phone. In a fit of jealousy, she told me to lose her number and never call her again. You see, sour cherries are her favorite, but she lives in Texas, where sweet cherries must be shipped in and fresh sour cherries are completely unknown.

But the husband and I live a mere two-hour drive from cherry country.


So every summer, we make a point of heading out to the cherry orchards at least once. We pick as many cherries as we can cram into the refrigerator and then some.


Sour pie cherries are always the hardest to find. I know of few orchards that still have sour cherry trees, and they’re usually picked clean by the time we make it out. Luckily, this year we hit the jackpot with several pounds of Montmorency cherries.


I know it’s weird, but I like to eat sour cherries out of hand, maybe even more than sweet cherries. I love their complex flavor and how they make you pucker up—it’s like being tickled, only in your mouth. I had to muster lots of will power not to eat them all at once, so that I could have enough left to make Sour Cherry Galettes.


Schmerber Farms is my new favorite orchard for u-pick cherries, in case you ever happen to be visiting these parts in the summertime. They have eight varieties of sweet cherries, plenty of sour cherries, beautiful scenery, and a very warm welcome.


Sour Cherry Galettes
Printable Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons, or more, cold water
1 ¾ pounds sour cherries, pitted
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar

Combine the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water and pulse until the dough just comes together. Test the dough by squeezing a small amount together with your fingertips. If the dough holds together, it’s ready. If it’s crumbly, add up to 1 more tablespoon of water and pulse 2 more times. Transfer the dough to a work surface, bring together into a ball, and cut into eighths. Form each portion into a ball and then flatten into a disc. Wrap each disc separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each disc of dough to a 7-inch wide, 1/8-inch thick circle. As you work, transfer the circles to parchment-lined baking trays. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes.

Toss together the cherries, remaining ¾ cup of sugar, cornstarch, and almond extract in a large bowl. Divide the cherry mixture among the dough circles, mounding it in the center of each one. Fold the edge of the dough over the cherries, pleating it as you go. Refrigerate for another 10 minutes.

Lightly brush the galette crusts with the cream and sprinkle the galettes with the Turbinado sugar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes 8 individual galettes. Work quickly and with a light touch to prevent the butter in the pastry from melting. Serve at room temperature, perhaps with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Strawberry Curd


How do 2 people eat an entire flat of strawberries in just 4 days? At the exclusion of nearly everything else. Except for maybe whipped cream. It takes lots of creativity and determination and dessert twice a day. But we did it.

We had plain strawberries, sugared strawberries, strawberries and cream, strawberry ice cream, strawberry verrines, and Strawberry Curd, which we ate by the spoonful, over pink strawberry cupcakes, and in strawberry tartelettes. Four days of strawberry bliss.


For the strawberry cupcakes, I used this cupcake recipe, omitting the vanilla bean, decreasing the vanilla extract to ¼ teaspoon, and substituting 12 ounces strawberries, pureed, for the milk.


I used this tart crust dough for the tartelettes.


Strawberry Curd
Printable Recipe

14 ounces strawberries
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Puree the strawberries in a food mill using a fine disc. Bring the puree to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Whisk together the eggs, yolks, and sugar in a large bowl. Continue whisking while adding the hot puree in a thin stream. Place the bowl with the egg mixture over a medium pan of simmering water and heat, whisking constantly, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until thick. Stir in the butter and lemon juice. Chill.

Makes about 2 cups. Keeps for a day or two tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Purple Potatoes


At the farmers market, the purple potatoes called my name. They begged to be turned into a salad. Do your vegetables talk to you?


Purple Potato Salad
Printable Recipe

1 ½ pounds medium purple potatoes
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon capers
¼ cup minced Italian parsley
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes into a large pot and add enough water to cover by several inches. Add several large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to a plate. Let rest for about 15 minutes, or until just cool enough to handle.

Combine the vinegar, mustard, shallot, capers, and parsley in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream. Dice the potatoes when they are cool enough to handle. Toss together the potatoes and dressing in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to a serving bowl, and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6. Also good with Yukon Gold or red potatoes instead of purple potatoes. Boiled potatoes absorb dressing best when they’re still hot, so don’t let them cool too much before dressing them. This salad is tasty at room temperature or even chilled, but it’s most delicious served right away, while it’s still warm. Keeps for a couple of days tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Learning to Love Fennel

I try not to discriminate. But no matter how hard I try, there is one food I don’t like. Actually, it’s a whole category of food: fennel and anything that tastes even vaguely like fennel. This obviously includes fennel, the vegetable, and fennel, the seed, and also tarragon, chervil, anise, star anise, licorice, and a whole range of alcoholic beverages. And I absolutely abhor root beer—I hate it so much that I can’t even stand when my husband drinks it.


I’m really traumatized—ashamed even—by my hang up with fennel. I mean, no self-respecting foodie should be in the position of having to avoid an entire category of food. Let’s just say that when you journey all the way across the country to dine at Chez Panisse, and the night’s menu features salad with raw fennel, it’s not embarrassing to cry in public. (That was like ten years ago, and I’m still scarred.)

Lest you think less of me, I want to point out in my own defense that I do love spicy Italian sausage (even though I sometimes pick out a few of the more obvious fennel seeds), I will devour a bowl of bouillabaisse in no time flat, I think of pho as comfort food, and I often sprinkle Chinese five-spice on duck breasts before I sear them. It takes lots of therapy, but I’m working really hard to overcome my fennel issues.


I’m proud to report that I’m making steady progress. Although raw fennel still makes me cringe, I’ve found that I like fennel when it’s cooked in ways that bring out its natural sweetness. I’ve even managed to create a fennel dish I absolutely love.


I hope you like it as much as I do. I think there’s hope yet for this fennel hater…

Unfortunately, in some perverse twist of karma, my puppy Alice (who just happens to be named after Alice Waters) just tore the only fennel that actually grew a bulb out of the garden and chewed it up to bits.

I’m sure I can’t be the only one out there with a funny food aversion. So I’m wondering, what’s your food hang up? And do you think it’s nature or nurture? Because neither of my parents can stand fennel either.

Braised Fennel with Shallots*
Printable Recipe

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
4 shallots, halved
2 tablespoons white wine
½ cup chicken broth
2 sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Heat a medium, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the fennel and shallots and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, tossing about 2 times, until crusty and brown in spots.* Add the wine, broth, and thyme. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until tender. Discard the thyme sprig and return the pan to medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the broth is thickened and saucy. Drizzle with the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish. Chop and toss with pasta and grated Parmegiano-Reggiano for a main course. Blend with more chicken broth for a soup.


*Searing the fennel and shallots in this manner adds tons of flavor to the finished dish. For a related Pork Tenderloin with Braised Fennel Sauce recipe and everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores in the fall of 2010.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Three Bean Salad, Reinvented

Is this what comes to mind when you think of three bean salad?


Maybe not. But it’s what I think of. It’s not that I have anything against the classic version or canned beans. But when there’s so much to choose from at the farmers market, I can’t open cans. For my version of three bean salad, I use fresh shelling peas.


And fresh fava beans.


And fresh haricot vert.


The farmers market also had snow peas and sugar snap peas that looked very tempting, but who’s ever heard of five bean salad?

Three Bean Salad with Peas, Favas & Haricot Vert
Printable Recipe

3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound English peas, shelled and blanched
1 ¼ pounds fava beans, shelled, blanched, and peeled
4 ounces haricot vert, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces, and blanched
2 ounces shaved Pecorino-Romano
6 ounces baby spinach, stemmed

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Arrange the prosciutto slices about an inch apart on a parchment-lined baking tray. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, turn the slices and bake another 5 to 6 minutes, or until crisp. Transfer to a plate to cool.

Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, shallot, lemon zest, mint, and oil in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Crumble the prosciutto. Toss together the prosciutto, peas, favas, haricot vert, Pecorino, and half of the dressing in a medium bowl. Toss together the spinach and remaining dressing in a large bowl. Arrange the spinach on individual plates, divide the bean mixture among them, and serve immediately.

Serves 6 as a first course or 2 as a main course. Substitute young green beans if you can’t find haricot vert. To shave Pecorino, use a vegetable peeler. Serve with crusty bread.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Strawberry Ice Cream and the Giveaway Winner

After all I went through to get my flat of u-pick strawberries this season, I was bound and determined to make the most of every single berry. The husband requested I turn some of them into ice cream, and that’s exactly what I did. Oh, what a sweet week it’s been—I ate more than my fill of strawberries every single day!


And now, drum roll please! It’s time to announce the giveaway winner. Lone Acorn has won the set of 6 mini brioche tins! Lone Acorn, please email me at lvaserfirer(at)yahoo(dot)com with your address so that I can send you your prize. Thanks to everybody who commented on Intrigued by Tonka Beans and a Giveaway. Interestingly, it seems like most commenters would be willing to give those illicit tonka beans a try. We’re definitely an adventurous group!


Strawberries & Cream Ice Cream
Printable Recipe

12 ounces strawberries
2 ½ cups milk
6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Puree the strawberries in a food mill using a fine disc. Bring the milk to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Whisk together the yolks and sugar in a large bowl. Continue whisking while adding the hot milk in a thin stream. Place the bowl with the yolk mixture over a medium pan of simmering water, and heat, whisking constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Immediately strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl and whisk in the strawberry puree, cream, and vanilla. Chill over an ice bath until ice-cold. Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. Transfer to a container and freeze for 4 to 6 hours before serving.

Makes about 2 quarts. For the best texture, enjoy within a day or two of churning.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Strawberry Picking and Red, White, and Bluish


Somehow the idea of strawberry picking in a fleece jacket seems all wrong. Strawberry picking slogging through muddy fields does not compute. The calendar said it was strawberry season, and the masses had converged upon the Sauvie Island strawberry fields, but I wasn’t feeling it. To me, strawberry picking is an activity that takes place on a warm, sunny day. An activity that takes place in shorts and tank tops and sandals and with plenty of sunscreen. I turned around empty handed and headed for home—I would wait another week.

The next weekend: still cloudy, still not feeling it. Lots of rain during the week would’ve diluted the sweetness of the strawberries anyway. I would wait impatiently yet another week.

And the next weekend: a few clouds and a few optimistic rays of sunshine. Starting to feel it. I made it half way out to Sauvie Island, and out of the blue, the skies opened up. The world did not want me to have u-pick strawberries, and it told me so with a torrential downpour, complete with flooded streets.

Now at this point, I should point out that I live for strawberry season. I look forward to it all year long. I’m in an area that, especially in good years, produces some of the most fragrant, sweetest, intoxicating strawberries I have ever known, and I am determined to take advantage of it. But I do not want to buy my strawberries at the store. They’re not the same. They come without the fresh air, the sun on your shoulders, the strain in your back, and the stained fingers and lips. Without the laughter and strawberry fight with your husband. They come without the magic.

But I gave in and headed to the market to buy some local strawberries. Their aroma lured me in, they looked good, they were only twice as expensive as u-pick. I was all ready to buy a couple pints, and then I tasted one. It was cold and barely sweet. I just couldn’t go through with it.

The clouds finally dissipated, and not a moment too soon—the strawberries were bearing their last fruit of the season, tiny berries no bigger than a thumbnail. The taste of strawberries still warm from the sun was definitely worth the wait!

We came home with an entire flat of strawberries. And between the two of us, we managed to polish of said flat in 4 days flat. My husband said the Vanilla Panna Cotta, Strawberry & Lavender Gelée Verrines I made looked like a collection of marbles.


Between bites, he proclaimed that they were perfect for the 4th of July since they were red, white, and bluish.

So here’s wishing everybody a happy Independence Day!


Vanilla Panna Cotta, Strawberry & Lavender Gelée Verrines
Printable Recipe

1 ½ cups milk
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon gelatin
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 ¼ cups water
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 drops red food coloring
2 drops blue food coloring
1 pound strawberries, diced

Measure ½ cup of the milk into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over 2 ½ teaspoons of the gelatin. Combine the remaining 1 cup of milk, cream, and ¼ cup of the sugar in a small saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and add both the pod and the seeds to the pan. Heat to a bare simmer. Whisk in the gelatin mixture and discard the vanilla bean. Chill over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. Divide among 6 dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Measure ¾ cup of the water into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of gelatin. Combine the remaining 1 ½ cups of water, remaining ½ cup of sugar, and lavender in a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer. Whisk in the gelatin mixture, lemon juice, and food coloring and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Chill over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. Transfer to a 9-inch square cake pan. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Divide the strawberries among the dessert cups. Dip the bottom of the cake pan with the lavender gelée into hot water for a few seconds, wipe dry, and invert onto a cutting board. Dice the gelée and divide among the dessert cups. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 generous servings. Feel free to add sugar to taste to the strawberries if they aren’t very sweet.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin