Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Taking A Cue

One blog that I read on a regular basis is David Lebovitz's blog.  You cannot go wrong with someone who has written numerous books on the subject of dessert and worked with Alice Waters.  It was his recent post on cherry compote that caught my attention, especially when he began the post claiming to have an affliction with buying too much Summer fruit when in season.  Mentally, my hand went up, guiltily, when I read that sentence, looking over the computer screen to the bowl of fruit on the table that was (and is) overflowing with plums (three varieties), nectarines, and peaches.  And let's not forget how I feel about cherries.  I get excited when cherry season arrives.  I always buy large amounts with big plans on making something truly special with them.  But then...I find myself standing at the kitchen counter, my hand repeatedly dipping into the bowl and eating one after another, after another...after another.  More times than not, I find myself with a pile of cherry pits, stained fingers, and nothing made from those glorious ruby orbs.

This Summer was looking like there would be no cherry-centric recipes made as I was on my third bowl of cherries and I still hadn't made it past the eating stage.  Then, I came across David's recipe.  Looking at the photos he posted, all I could imagine was spooning cherry compote over vanilla ice cream.  Let me tell you...since I caught strep throat last month, ice cream has been a consistent resident in my freezer.  You know...it soothed the pain of an awful sore throat.  Well...then it did.  Now, it just makes me happy.

Get out your cherry pitter (or chopstick), pit some cherries, and make this.  Be sure the vanilla ice cream is in the freezer and ready for it.

Cherry Compote
Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz
Makes a little over a cup

2 cups cherries, pitted
1/4 cup pure cane sugar
2 capfuls Irish whiskey (optional)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Pit the cherries and add to a large saucepan.  Make sure any juice from the cherries winds up in the pan too.  Add the sugar, extract, and whiskey.  Over medium heat, cook all the ingredients, until the cherries begin to break down.  Occasionally check the progress, since the cooking will cause the cherries and liquid to foam.  Since this isn't a large amount of cherries, it shouldn't be a problem if your pan is large enough.  Cook until the fruit breaks down a considerable amount and all the flavors have mingled (about 20-25 minutes).  Allow to cool for a few minutes before storing or topping ice cream.  

Notes:  I used a chopstick to pit the cherries.  It takes a little getting used to, but once you find a rhythm, it gets easier.  It's a little messy, but worth it.  Be sure to catch any juice from the cherries (there will be some).  I literally used 2 capfuls of whiskey, so if you're looking for an exact measurement, I'll guess it's close to two tablespoons.  Amaretto is another option to use, giving you a double punch of almond if you also use the almond extract, though you could substitute vanilla extract if amaretto is used. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Adult Beverage Time

A couple of weeks ago, a friend invited me to a play at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown.  We were there 45 minutes to an hour before showtime.  It was a lovely, early Summer evening, people were milling about the venue complex, having a drink or grabbing a quick bite to eat before the show.  We did the same.  She came back from the Mexican spot carrying a tumbler that was close to spilling over.  I knew it was for me.  I guessed sangria and asked before taking a sip.  Winey, fruity, and chilled.  It was a little too sweet, but that didn't keep me from drinking the whole thing.  Just enough to take the edge off the tension of driving cross-city to get from the Westside to downtown and not being too late.

For the past two weeks, I've been thinking about that sangria.  Thinking about how much I like sangria and why have I never made it myself.  I guess I think of it as a party drink, something that you make knowing there will be at least a couple people to share it.  The first time I had sangria was just such a scenario.  A Summer get-together, with a lot of food, a lot of drink, a lot of hospitality, and a pool involved.  That just doesn't happen here.  There are no pool parties, no cook-outs, no picnics.  I can make an old fashioned for myself and it's okay.  It seems kind of silly to make a whole pitcher.  But I decided to throw those thoughts out the window and make myself some damned sangria.  It was a holiday after all.  A day with nowhere to be and if I wanted to drink the whole thing myself, I could!

Can I tell you that one of the reasons I've been hesitant to make it is because I was afraid I'd screw it up?  Crazy, right?  I thought if I was missing some crucial element it would be disastrous and that ideal in my head would be gone forever.  Silly, silly me.  So in the name of quick research, I went to Pinterest.  Trusty Pinterest.  And found the best sangria pin EVER (even among the many sangria pins I've pinned to my board!).  The pin is not so much a recipe as a GUIDE, so I know where to improvise, see what's important, and what can be cut back or eliminated all together.  It's just what I needed.

I love how it doesn't have to cost a lot, unless you're making pitchers and pitchers full.  I fully encourage taking advantage of less expensive wines.  The 3/$10.00 Tisdale wines at Sprouts was just right, and use the seasonal fruit that you'll be able to find for good prices.  You probably have Cointreau, brandy, or rum in your liquor cabinet already.  I did not drink the whole pitcher in one day.  In fact, there is half a pitcher still chilling in the fridge.  The weekend isn't quite over yet.  Come this evening, I'll be pouring a glass.

Summer Sangria
Makes 1 pitcher

1 bottle (750ml) red wine (I used the Tisdale Sweet Red)
3 oz triple sec (or Cointreau)
1 cup club soda
1 6-oz package raspberries 
1medium nectarines, cut in chunks
2 medium plums, sliced
1 medium orange, sliced 
Juice of one large orange
1 oz agave nectar
Orange slices, for garnish

In a medium to large pitcher, pour in the wine.  Add the raspberries, nectarine, and plums.  Stir.  Add the triple sec and orange juice, stirring to mix.  Add the club soda, agave nectar, and orange slices.  Mix thoroughly, tasting, and adding more agave if you see fit.  

Chill for at least 4 hours or longer.  Garnish each glass with a orange wedge before serving.