Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Time for Frozen Fruit
What's cooking? Rhubarb Compote and Spiced Blueberry Sorbet

What is happening here? We left Austin for Jersey City in order to escape the summer heat, and for the last several days, the weather forecast has actually been worse in NJ. Where is the justice??!! I can’t even imagine what it has been like for all those poor souls who’ve endured this wave without A/C.

When I was in my teens, and central air was something you only got if you had a brand-new house, my parents splurged and installed window air conditioners in the upstairs of our house. And I would actually close off my room and open the windows because I didn’t like the smell of the cool air. Deep in the heart of Texas. Thinking about it now, I can only imagine it was a combination of teenage hormones and just outright lunacy. In general, I’ve recovered from that phase of my life, although there are days in Austin when my husband will return from the golf course and find me in the house with all the doors and windows open and all the fans going... at 84-85°. He would tell you I’m still a bit nuts, and maybe he’s right.

In any case, even I have limits. So aside from trips to the farmers’ market, I’ve been staying inside, spending my time thinking about ice cream and sorbet.

The farmers’ market has been exploding with fruit, and frozen desserts are a great way to use them. In the non-frozen category, I cooked up a sweet-tart rhubarb compote a couple of weeks ago. It’s great on vanilla ice cream or pound cake, or with roast pork tenderloin, or in cottage cheese for breakfast. And I made a tingly spiced strawberry sorbet with the last of the local strawberries. Oh, my.

Kitchen Goddess note: Rhubarb compote is so easy, there’s no need for a recipe. Cut up a pound of rhubarb (the redder, the better), simmer it with ½-⅔ cup of sugar and the juice of half a lemon for about 10 minutes (until the rhubarb is tender), and you’re done. If you want to get adventurous, add a 1-inch piece of ginger to the mix before simmering, then remove it at the end. A pound of rhubarb will make about 2 cups of compote.

The season now is for peaches and blueberries, so we had a creamy, slightly chunky peach ice cream last night for dessert. But it was a bit rich for this weather, so for tonight, I adapted the spiced strawberry sorbet recipe to blueberries. These frozen treats are unbelievably simple if you just have an ice cream maker – and if you don’t, what’s holding you back?

 My Texas machine is a Donvier hand-crank, and in New Jersey, I have a Cuisinart electric model that my son and daughter-in-law gave me for Christmas, along with this really excellent book on frozen desserts (where I found the peach ice cream recipe) by David Lebovitz. Both machines work well, though I’ll confess that the electric one takes hardly any effort at all. Here’s the recipe for spiced blueberry sorbet. Steeping the simple syrup in cracked peppercorns adds a tiny bit of bite that gives your mouth that “Oh, wow” feeling.

A Kitchen Goddess note about crushing peppercorns: You could use a grinder if you had one with a very coarse setting, but I find it’s just as easy to pour the peppercorns into a plastic zip-top bag or even a paper envelope. Seal the bag or envelope and lay it on your countertop. Give it a few good whacks with something flat – like the bottom of a glass measuring cup or a meat mallet or the broad side of a hammer. It’s not necessary to get them all cracked, just mostly cracked.

Spiced Blueberry Sorbet, adapted from Gourmet, August 1995

Yield:  about 1 quart

⅔ cup sugar
⅔ cup water
3 tablespoons black peppercorns, crushed coarsely
1 quart blueberries (preferably local)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, or to taste

In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring it to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the peppercorns and remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan and let the syrup stand 1 hour.

Strain the syrup through a fine sieve into a food processor or blender and discard peppercorns. Add the blueberries and purée with the syrup until very smooth (4-5 minutes). Stir in vinegar and chill, covered, until cold. Freeze mixture in an ice-cream maker.

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