I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn’t surprising to anyone. I’d done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited.
Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it’s bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being … but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It’s been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn’t need much convincing.
This decadent sorbet recipe is from Shauna Sever’s new book, Real Sweet. I’ve never met Shauna in person, but we’ve known each other online for awhile now. She has a warm, approachable voice and a really contagious enthusiasm for everything she writes about — whether it’s how to make homemade confectioners sugar or how to brown butter. And this book really strikes a chord with me because we use natural sugars most all of the time at home these days. I rarely bake with white sugar anymore, much preferring coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, dates, or a number of natural cane sugars instead. So! A whole baking book devoted to experimenting with the ways in which natural sugars can add layers of deep, complex flavors to everyday sweets? Yes, please.
I think I’ve mentioned the vegan ice creams I’ve developed for The Kitchn before? There was my very favorite, incredibly addicting Vegan Coconut Almond Chip and then, of course, that Strawberry Swirl. For these recipes (and others I make at home), I generally use full-fat coconut milk for the base, but Shauna’s sorbet recipe intrigued me because she uses plain almond milk instead. She warms it with a dark blend of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder, thickens it with a touch of cornstarch, sweetens it with natural sugars and folds in toasty, salted almonds at the very end.
In her recipe, Shauna calls for muscovado sugar which has a really nice dark, damp sweetness (a natural cousin to dark brown sugar, really). We happened to be out, so I used coconut sugar instead, which has a similar dark sweetness that I thought would compliment the cocoa flavors in this recipe beautifully. The result is a flavor-packed sorbet that’s decadent without feeling heavy or overly indulgent, and maybe just as delicious on a warm, blossomy afternoon in Seattle as it would be on the streets of Bologna. Just maybe …
Megan’s Notes: If you want to make this recipe truly vegan, look for a vegan chocolate and opt for the agave nectar; this wasn’t critical for me, so I used a good 60% bittersweet chocolate and ended up using the agave, but you could certainly use honey instead. Like many homemade ice creams and sorbets, you really need to let this soften for a good 15 minutes before serving or it’ll be quite hard. I didn’t this sorbet to get icy, but if you don’t let it soften, it’s not going to be as smooth and creamy as it deserves to be.
If you’d prefer to use a different toasted nut here, hazelnuts would be wonderful as would peanuts. I also found myself thinking about little flecks of white chocolate folded in with the almonds at the end, and next time around I’m going to make that happen. I did not include prep/total time for this recipe as ice cream machines all work at different speeds; do note, though, that the base must chill for at least four hours.
Slightly adapted from: Real Sweet
In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the almond milk with the cornstarch. Whisk to dissolve.
In a large (4-quart) saucepan, whisk together the remaining 2 cups of almond milk, sugar, cocoa powder, agave nectar, and salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring mixture to a low boil. Boil for 1 minute. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Continue whisking 1 minute more, until thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and add chopped chocolate and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth.
Set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium heatproof bowl. Pour the sorbet base through the sieve. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 4 hours. Whisk vigorously to smooth out any lumps. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Toast the almonds: place a dry, medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the almonds and toast until pale golden and fragrant, about 6-7 minutes. Sprinkle with fine sea salt. Cool completely.
When the sorbet is finished churning, fold in the cooled almonds. Pack into an airtight container and freeze until firm. Let soften for about 15 minutes before serving.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.