This past week we’ve had quite a heat wave in Seattle. I’ve been getting into the bakery early in the mornings so as to avoid the afternoon heat + hot oven combination, and it turns out the upstairs of our new house is quite a little hot box. I bought some aggressive blinds and a new fan and am hoping both will help cool things down a bit. The wool blanket is in the linen closet for the season, and Sam’s been making iced tea like it’s his job. Summer has arrived! A few nights ago, the thought of actually doing much real cooking seemed a bit overwhelming, so I figured it was time to dig out the ice cream maker and get to work.
I’d wanted to do something with the beautiful strawberries we have in the markets right now, but it seems every time I get a little pint it’s gone before I have the chance. They are just so incredibly sweet, and it seems a shame to do anything other than eat them right out of the container, preferably while sitting on the Moroccan picnic blanket you brought back from honeymoon on the lawn in your new backyard trying not to stress out about the incredible, insurmountable number of weeds. So. Many. Weeds. But cherries: somehow the bag of cherries made it safely through the weekend, so I set about to find a great cherry ice cream recipe.
When you live in Washington state, the arrival of local cherries can be a pretty exciting thing. We always get California cherries first and they’re sweet and glorious, but the just-picked cherries you can get at our farmers markets beginning in June is something to wait for. This spring and summer, Sam has been working the Sunday farmers market for me (I’ve needed to take a little break), and as I’ve mentioned before, one of the big bonuses of working markets is trading with other vendors at the end of the day. In the winter, this is a little less exciting as the produce is often limited to kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts but in the summer, it can feel overwhelming when thinking about who to trade with: berries? tomatoes? fresh herbs? This past week, it was all about the berries and cherries.
As I was flipping through one of my favorite ice cream “cookbooks” I came across a recipe for a Cherry Almond Ice cream that didn’t rely on extract, but instead had you heat and steep finely ground almonds into the milk to infuse it with flavor. While the process does have a few steps (prep the cherries, infuse the milk, and make the custard base) it was well worth it in the end … and you could do a few of these steps in advance to make life simpler.
Megan’s Notes: I made a few tweaks to the recipe that I’ll quickly mention: The original recipe calls to cook down the cherries in 2 1/4 cups to 1 1/4 cups water. I felt like my cherries were so sweet to begin with and this seemed like a lot of sugar (even though you don’t actually use the syrup in the ice cream recipe itself), so you’ll notice I did end up decreasing the amount of sugar. The only downside to this is that you’re not left with as thick a syrup at the end, so I cooked our syrup down for just a few minutes to thicken it once I’d removed the cherries (I made a few notes for what to do with your leftover syrup at the end of the recipe). Second, because I always buy whole milk, I used it for this recipe and I think 1% really would’ve been more fitting in this case: the fat ratio was HIGH in my version so the ice cream came out super thick and decadent — more like a frozen custard than a light, smooth ice cream. I actually loved the texture, but it’s worth noting that the type of milk you use will greatly impact the texture here (in the recipe below I indicated for you to use 1% as this is what I’ll do the next time around).
I hope your summer is off to a good start, that you’ve made some time in your schedule for ice cream, and that your backyard has far fewer weeds than ours.
Oh! And if you live in Seattle: I’ll be doing a talk and a book signing at the always-amazing Swanson’s Nursery this Saturday June 13th at 10 am. Come join us for a chat on Whole Grain Mornings, summery breakfasts, and how to incorporate more whole grains into your seasonal cooking this year. I hope to see some of you there!
The authors of the cookbook note that the type of strainer you use greatly impacts the texture of your ice cream: a regular fine-mesh wire strainer will yield a more rustic ice cream whereas a superfine-mesh strainer like a chinois will give you a very smooth, silky ice cream. Next time I make this, I wouldn’t be opposed to folding in a little chopped dark chocolate — never a bad idea.
Slightly adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
For the Cherries:
For the Base:
Poach the Cherries:
In a small non reactive saucepan, combine the sugar and the water and bring to a boil over medium heat. When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, add the cherries, and cook until the cherries are soft and cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let the cherries cool completely in the syrup. Once cool, drain the cherries (save the syrup for other uses*) and squeeze the pits out of the fruit. Chop the cherries into 1/4 inch pieces. Refrigerate until you’re ready to use.
Prepare the Nut-Infused Milk
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Let cool completely.
Combine the cooled nuts with the 3/4 sugar in a food processor. Pulse until very finely ground (about the consistency of sand). Don’t overprocess or the mixture will become oily.
Transfer the almond mixture to a heavy nonreactive pan and stir in the cream, milk and salt. Heat over medium-high heat until it just begins to bubble around the edges. Remove from heat and cover the pan. Let stand for about 20 minutes, or until a nice almond flavor has infused into the mixture (smell and taste to gauge!)
Make the Base:
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up. Set aside. Place the pan with the cream mixture over medium-high heat. When the mixture comes to a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.
Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a whisk and stirring constantly as you pour, add the egg-cream mixture to the cream mixture in the saucepan.
Cook carefully over medium heat, about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it’s thickened enough to coat the back of a spatula and hold a clear path when you run your finger across it. Strain the vase through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set container into an ice water bath, and stir it occasionally until base is cool. Remove container from the ice water bath, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. While ice cream is churning, put the container you’ll use to store your ice cream into the freezer. Add the chopped cherries at the very end or fold in by hand. Enjoy very soft ice cream right away, or freeze for at least 4 hours for a firmer ice cream.
*Use leftover cherry syrup in cocktails, swirled into club soda, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)