Tuesday, January 16, 2018

cranberry and mulled spice sorbet

I know we are past Thanksgiving and I promise this is not a recipe strictly for Thanksgiving, but please bear with me while I ramble down the trail:

In numerous posts, I express my love for the many facets of Thanksgiving. In my praise, one area I have neglected is the Thanksgiving dessert buffet. From my perspective, the end to the Thanksgiving meal, especially if you're with a large family, is often an array of desserts: there is ubiquitous pumpkin pie, some type of apple dessert, and often also something involving pear. At my sister-in-laws Thanksgiving, there are generally five to six types of desserts, one of which is a pistachio pudding folded with whipped cream and studded with mini marshmallows and maraschino cherries. I dearly love it.

Just like a savory buffet, a good dessert buffet includes a balance of flavors and textures. While I would never be one to decline three types of pie in a sitting, I think there is something about having different formats represented. Four years ago, I hosted Thanksgiving and a number of my guests, for health reasons, were strictly off gluten and dairy. I wanted to provide a dessert option that met their dietary requirements, felt rich and indulgent, and balanced out the Thanksgiving dessert buffet. Enter: cranberry sorbet.

First off, it is gorgeous. Look at that color! It is the sort of vibrancy I miss in the winter months, when the available produce appears in the same shade range of pale to squash. Which is why I am sharing this recipe with you now. I suspect you, like me, have an errant bag of fresh or frozen cranberries kicking around in your fridge. Wouldn't you love to have a little tub of this zingy sweet in your freezer, just waiting to dip into? To bump up the seasonal flavor, I also include some classic "mulling" spices. We enjoyed a few rounds of mulled wine this winter and I thought the flavors would be a good match here, warming up the tartness of the berries. Finally, to cut the mouth-drying sour of the cranberries, the sorbet base includes mixed berries. I use a bag of "assorted berries" in the grocery store freezer case and it often includes raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, but really I think you could try this with cranberries plus one berry, say raspberries, if that's your preference.

I like to think of this as a winter berry sorbet and it would be a shame to limit the enjoyment of it to a singular holiday. To further the point, it would be stunning to pair a scoop of this with a scoop of mandarin orange sorbet. As I believe with all ice creams and sorbets, they are a perfect make-ahead dessert to have on hand for houseguests or a weeknight dinner party or Winter Olympics viewing party(!). I have not done the research but am curious as to how a scoop of this would do if floated in a little sparkling wine. If anyone tries it out, please let me know.

cranberry and mulled spiced sorbet

for the simple syrup:
2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar

for the berry and spice base:
1 pound frozen mixed berries- blackberries, blueberries, raspberries
6 oz fresh or frozen cranberries
1 mandarin orange or clementine, cut in half
1/2 fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 cinnamon sticks, roughly broken
1 star anise
3 cloves
1 cup of water

1) Make the simple syrup: in a medium sized heavy bottomed saucepan, mix together the water and granulated sugar. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2) Make the berry and spice base: in a medium sized heavy bottomed saucepan, mix all the ingredients together. Heat to a simmer and then lower heat and cook for about 45 minutes. What you're looking for is for all the berries to have burst and broken down and the clementine too. Remove mixture from the heat and let cool slightly. Then pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to hold back all the pulp and whole spices, reserving the gorgeous spiced berry juice.

3) To the spiced berry juice, mix in about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the simple syrup. How much sugar to add really depends on the sweetness of the berries and your own palette. Although, I will say that flavors dull once they are frozen and so what may be perfect at room temperature will likely not be as balanced once it whirls in the ice cream maker. I tend to lean towards the sweet side but just a smidge over. Take this mixture and refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Once it is throughly chilled, add to the ice cream maker and follow manufacturers instructions. Once the sorbet is mixed, I like to freeze overnight so that it is a fully firm texture.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Roasted tomato and carrot soup

I did not own an umbrella until I lived in California. I was thinking about this, last week, as I walked to my car, in what the locals call "freezing rain", and I was wearing the wrong jacket, sans umbrella. It is funny that I did not own an umbrella because where I grew up, Southeast Alaska, is considered a temperate rain forest. My hometown receives a yearly average of 49 inches of rain. But, when I lived there, I did not carry an umbrella and neither did most people I knew. I suspect there were a couple of drivers for this: first, when it rains with such frequency, you dress for it. I think most of what I owned, outwear wise, was water resistant. (The one exception being a pair of 80's "moon boots" for the snow that really served as sponges to absorb slush and water. Anyone else have a pair of those worthless things?) Second, umbrella's are kind of a pain to deal with: opening and closing while getting in and out of a car, and drying them out, bleh. In SoCal, the rain was so rare, it was a fun diversion to pull out my umbrella and rain boots, (both striped, natch.) A rainy day felt like it's own type of holiday, where we could justifiably eat hot soup and grilled cheese and stay in and watch movies. Now, living in Washington, once again rain is a regular part of my life and so I need to find my umbrella. I am learning about all sorts of new weather too- inversion fog, the aforementioned freezing rain, and a regular wind that blows so strong, neighborhood trees grow at a tilt. Soup, rather than being a holiday treat, is de rigueur.

As a I shared in my post on split pea soup, I have been stocking my freezer up, which pleases my inner Marilla Cuthburt. These past months I returned to an old favorite- roasted tomato carrot soup. I first made this about 16 years ago. That December, for my 21st birthday, my friends threw me a beautiful dinner party at their apartment. The starter was Ina Garten's roasted tomato basil soup. The finish of the meal was when the party guests took turns saying kind things to me, which included one friend confessing, to a table of people and my new husband, that he secretly had a crush on me for two years. The evening was a memorable one for many reasons.

While I do not recall how I replied to my friends confession, I do remember I loved the soup. At the time, my husband and I rented a small one bedroom second story apartment that faced a courtyard with a pool. An architectural throw-back to the 1950s, I don't believe the stuccoed walls held a stitch of insulation. When temperatures would get "chilly", in the 50 degree range, (hilarious, now that my daily high is in the 30s), I liked to cook in the oven, as the apartment was small enough that a good casserole could really warm things up.

I wanted to re-make Ina's soup, but round out the acidity of the tomatoes. Also, while the roasted tomato and basil is delicious, sometimes it reads too much like pasta sauce to my palette. The solution became adding a pan of carrots to the oven, along with the tomatoes. This addition also results in soup that is a gorgeous orangey-red, like a color from a J.Crew catalog.

Over the years, I have made many iterations of this soup, tinkering to get my desired flavor and texture. I think it is perfect all on it's own, and for those of us making more healthful choices after two months of drinking eggnog in our morning coffee (ahem), it is a good fit. But, it is also sublime when finished with a splash of heavy cream or dollop of sour cream.

roasted tomato and carrot soup

roasted tomatoes:
3 lbs roma tomatoes, halved, cored and seeds scooped out (about 15 tomatoes, but do weigh them)
1/4 cup olive oil
good pinch of kosher salt

roasted carrots:
3 large carrots, scrubbed and halved (I don't bother with peeling)
2 tablespoons olive oil
good pinch of kosher salt

soup base:
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock (or use vegetable stock for a vegetarian/vegan version)
28 oz can whole tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
salt & pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 400. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the halved tomatoes with olive oil and salt. Roast for 90 minutes or until the tomatoes lose their shape and start to char. On a second rimmed baking sheet, toss the carrots with olive oil and salt and add to the oven, alongside the tomatoes. Roast the carrots for 60 minutes or until they are tender and edges start to char.

2) Meanwhile, prepare the soup base: heat the olive oil in a large soup pot (preferably one with a heavy base). Saute the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook briefly, (seriously, like 30 seconds) and then add the chicken stock. To this soup base, add the roasted carrots and simmer for about 15 minutes. (Why? The carrots have a tendency to get a bit shriveled around the edges and it do not blend up as smoothly in the final product. I like the flavor that roasting produces but recommend softening them up in the soup base for a bit).

3) Once tomatoes are roasted, add to the simmering carrots and stock and then also add the can of tomatoes and fresh thyme. Bring it all to a simmer. Remove from heat and, using an immersion blender, blitz it all until consistent smooth texture. Please take care not to splatter yourself with hot soup. If it's all a bit thick, you can thin out with a water that's been swirled in the leftover can from the tomatoes (just and idea).

Monday, January 1, 2018

a few of my favorite things- new years day edition 1/01/18

Our first holiday season in our new home was special: we hosted family for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I felt so fortunate to have space for everyone to feel comfortable. We made Christmas cookies and then delivered them door to door in our neighborhood, singing "We Wish You A Merry Christmas".

We had a white Christmas and took afternoon drives with family into the snow covered passes around our town. At one point, we had to stop the truck to let a group of wild turkey march across the road. We decided that the group of turkeys should be called a "gobble".

During the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I did so much cooking y'all. Even I admit to being impressed with how much I pulled off: vanilla marshmallows, peanut brittle, fruit nut balls (not as well received as I wanted them to be), coconut meltaway cookies, iced sugar cookies, blueberry cobbler, chocolate loaf cake, creme fraiche ice cream, spiced cranberry sorbet, apple tart, gingerbread cake, and, as always, salted dark chocolate chip cookies. That is just the sweet stuff- does not include the ham, turkeys, brisket, roasts, etc. I think I will always remember this Christmas as the one I was not working and had the time to cook my little heart out. I suspect every holiday after this will be a bit of a disappointment to myself. But I am thankful that this year I was able to immerse myself in it. Nothing makes me happier than a table with friends and family and good food.

Like most years, we had a quiet New Years Eve. Today I will make my own resolutions and goals for 2018. Yesterrday I had a sad thought: 2017 is the last year that I will be able to say I lived in Southern California. In 2018, I will only have lived in Washington. I have been feeling pretty homesick for my SoCal friends. Just after Thanksgiving, one of my dear friends had the loveliest fresh balsam fir wreath delivered to my home. The Christmas holidays were a nice diversion but on Saturday a package arrived from two of my close friends and it was filled with so many thoughtful gifts, one of which was a small box of chocolate covered espresso beans from a favorite downtown LA patisserie and I went ahead and started crying. Change is hard and sometimes it feels like the more I settle in to my new life and surroundings the more I realize the loss of what I left behind. I really miss my friends. So, one of my goals for the new year is planning a So Cal visit.

One thing is for sure: I am thankful for this space and you, dear reader, for continuing to visit. I look forward to writing and sharing in the new year. Blessings to you and those you love!

Here are a few of my favorite things (lately):

For supper, I made this pasta dish with kale and red pepper flakes and we wolfed it down.

One of my favorite writers, Ann Patchett, wrote a fascinating piece in the New York Times about not shopping for a year.

If you're looking for something to listen to while taking down the Christmas tree, here is a link to the top ten interviews from NPRs "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross.

Something to think about as you head back to work: according to Harvard Business Review "Research: Men get credit for voicing ideas, but not problems. Women don't get credit for either."

Did you get a gift card to a bookstore (ahem, Amazon) and it's burning a hole in your pocket? Here are some of my favorite reads from this year*:
**books I read this year, but not necessarily published this year :)