Thursday, May 30, 2013

Be Not Afraid
What's cooking? A couple of sorbets and Almond Phyllo Crisps

In my stroll through the Sunday New York Times last week, I came across a piece about the migration of “Lean In” from book title (by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg) to cultural virus – in effect, the phrase of the week, or maybe even the month if Sandberg is lucky.

Columnists and editorial writers have seized on the phrase to talk about women in math and science classes, women in the executive suite, women in the boardroom. A lot of talk about pushing harder, seizing opportunities, taking risks. Excuse me, ladies, but to echo the 1970s, “Been there, done that.”

And here, the Kitchen Goddess takes just a moment to climb up onto her soapbox and say that we – “we” being women of a certain age who wanted both a career and a family – faced the same issues young women face today. In the 70s, we called it “Having it all.” That was before corporate child care, paid maternity leave, and options for telecommuting. Thirty years ago, I was a VP on Wall Street, commuting 5 days a week, taking night classes for my MBA, and pregnant with my second child. It was exhilarating, and it damn near killed me. Eventually, I found a way to get work, family, and sleep in more reasonable proportions. Lots of my friends did the same. It’s hard, but it’s not a new fight. You look at your life, you set your priorities, you make choices. I would like for Ms. Sandberg and her ilk to recognize that they’re not blazing new trails. So lean in, by all means. Just don’t lean so far you lose your balance.

[The thumping noise you hear now is me climbing down from the soapbox.]

Now, let me add that taking risks should not be a problem in the kitchen. Cooking should not be a source of fear. Cooking should be interesting. Cooking should be fun! Cooking should be adventuresome!! Remember, as against facing many of life’s great issues, cooking is really small beans. The Kitchen Goddess’s first rule: If it doesn’t work, or you don’t like the taste, throw it out and order pizza.

* * *

So today, we will celebrate the arrival of warm weather. Our nights here in Austin are firmly into the 70s, which means we eat dinner on the porch. And one of my favorite warm weather desserts is sorbet.

For a recent neighborhood dinner, I was assigned dessert – again. I’m not sure if it’s because they like my desserts so much or because it’s tough giving the appetizer assignment to someone who’s usually not... um, early. In any case, I leaned in and embraced the opportunity with a combo of two sorbets and some delightful almond phyllo crisps. Oh, yes. The crisps are simple if a little tricky, mostly because you have to handle phyllo sheets. But if you start early enough and they don’t work for you, throw them out. You’ll have time to make Greek Almond Cookies instead. I hope you’ll give the crisps a try – they’re light and crunchy and flavorful but not too sweet, and the almond flavor works well with the fruit. I served a plateful of the extras, and they disappeared before I could get even one.

Also, as I have only one ice cream maker, I was forced to improvise with the second sorbet, but it was easier than I thought. If you have two ice cream makers, by all means use them. If not, don’t fret – I’ll show you. Or...just make one of the sorbets. You do not have to be as compulsive as the Kitchen Goddess.

Spiced Strawberry Sorbet

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, August 1995

⅔ cup sugar
⅔ cup water
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 quart strawberries, hulled (choose locally grown, if possible, and look for bright red berries with no green or white spots)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Meanwhile, put the peppercorns into a plastic ziplock bag, seal the bag, and give the peppercorns several good whacks with a rolling pin or the bottom of a large flat bowl. You want the peppercorns to be coarsely crushed.

When the syrup comes to a boil, turn off the heat and add the crushed peppercorns. Cover the pan and let it sit for an hour.

Load the strawberries into a blender or food processor. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve, and add it to the blender. Purée several minutes until the mixture is very smooth. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir. Chill the mixture until cold, then process in an ice cream maker.

Orange Sorbet

Adapted from Devin McDavid of Quince in San Francisco, via Food & Wine magazine, May 2012

⅓ cup sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
2 cups chilled fresh orange juice (fresh = big difference!)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar, the water, and the corn syrup until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, set a heatproof bowl into an ice bath. When the sugar syrup boils, remove it from heat and pour it into the heatproof bowl and gently whisk until cool. Add the orange and lemon juices and stir until cold.

If you have a second ice cream maker, load the cold liquid into it and process until reasonably frozen.

If you don’t have a second ice cream maker, pour the cold liquid into an oblong glass Pyrex dish (mine is 11"x7"), and put it in the freezer. Every 15 minutes or so as it freezes, stir the mixture (gently, so it doesn’t slosh) using a fork or whisk to break up lumps, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Toasted Almond Phyllo Crisps

½ cup blanched almonds, toasted lightly and cooled
½ cup granulated sugar
6 phyllo sheets, thawed*
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
confectioners’ (powdered) sugar for sprinkling the baked crisps

*Kitchen Goddess note: The trickiest part about phyllo sheets is that they’re tissue thin; thus, they tend to dry out and can tear easily. They come in a box of two rolls; for this recipe, thaw only one roll – in the fridge overnight or for 2 hours at room temp (in its bag).

Preheat oven to 350º.

In a food processor, grind together the almonds and the sugar to a fine texture. (You can do this part up to 2 days in advance.)

Set out 2 phyllo-sized sheets of Saran Wrap or wax paper and a damp kitchen towel. Make sure your hands are dry. Open the bag of phyllo, unroll the pile of sheets, peel off 8-10 (you only need 6; I get out extras in case I can’t separate them all) and lay them between the sheets of Saran Wrap. Cover with the damp kitchen towel. Re-roll the rest of the sheets, bag them, and return them to the freezer.

On a smooth, dry work surface, lay one phyllo sheet and brush all over with butter. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the almond sugar. Peel off another sheet of phyllo, lay it on top as evenly as you can, brush that sheet with butter and sprinkle with 2 more tablespoons of almond sugar. Repeat the process until you’ve used 6 sheets of phyllo. If you’ve managed to get this far without tearing a phyllo sheet, you can call yourself a pro. I will try to work with a sheet that's ripped, but will not kill myself trying. Phyllo sheets are cheap and plentiful.

With a sharp knife – pressing down, not slicing – cut the finished stack into a 3x4 grid, then cut across the diagonal of each rectangle in the grid, to make triangle-shaped crisps. Using a flat, stainless spatula, move the triangles – sugared side up – to two heavy baking sheets lined with baker’s parchment. Bake 10-15 minutes or until the crisps are a light golden brown. Cool on racks. (Given the delicacy of the crisps, I just slide the entire sheet of parchment with crisps onto the racks to cool.) This recipe makes 48 crisps.

When ready to serve, sprinkle the crisps with confectioners’ sugar.

Assembling the dessert:

Scoop a mound of the orange sorbet into a serving dish. Top with a scoop of the strawberry sorbet. Perch a crisp on top. Serves 10-12.


  1. Yumm! You can bring dessert to my house anytime you come back to Scottsdale.I think it would be very helpful to keep a supply of Almond Crisps on hand for crunch emergencies :))

    1. I think I should come to Scottsdale and have a cook-athon with you and Deb and any other crazies.

  2. Lee,
    Thank you for your soapbox on "Lean In"-- it's certainly not a new fight. Prioritize, make choices, persevere. Enough said!

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding -- I just saw this. But thx!

  3. I read this, loved it, and then somehow didn't comment. But, let me just say, as one of the younger set, I get it. I do. These are not new fights, which is one of the reasons it's so frustrating that it's still this hard. I don't deny that a lot of it has to do with the expectations we place on ourselves -- but man oh man I could not hack it as both a corporate lawyer and a mom. Something had to give.

    And, therefore,"Don't lean in so far you lose your balance" is my new favorite saying.

    1. Thx, Lauren. I agree on the frustration. As my grandmother used to say, "It's a hard fight with a short stick." Am hoping my granddaughter has an easier time.

  4. What a great post, from beginning to end!

  5. What a great post, from beginning to end!

  6. Lee - I loved this. I loved your response to the book and press and loved how you chimed in with your experience here. I look forward to learning about you as I read more posts. Keep writing. I'm reading. :)

    1. And I'm reading yours! Such fun meeting you -- keep up all that nice writing!

  7. Way to go, Lee.
    And thanks for giving me permission to throw out and order pizza. How had I missed the KG primary rule?