26 February 2012

A long time coming

Back last spring, my sister and her stepdaughter Malia needed to go to Palm Springs ... for a cheerleading competition. Setting aside the fact that I saw more glittery eyeshadow that weekend than in the rest of my life combined, it was a fantastic weekend.

Palm Springs is an odd little place. There are lots of golf courses, of course, and plenty of old people. There is almost always at least one convention going on (some event planner wisely decided to counter the thousands of peppy teens and tweens by scheduling a rodeo during the same weekend). They have an unsurprising glut of restaurants ... and a surprisingly large proportion of those restaurants are really good.

Not that we ate at too many places. With Sherman's Deli—a.k.a. the land of the unholy-good-Reuben—just down the street from our hotel, it was hard to be very adventurous. In fact, one day we ate such a great lunch at the deli that we didn't have room for any of the desserts in the very large bakery display, so we had dessert for dinner. Malia had a cream puff that was nearly the size of her head, Mike had a slice of coconut cream pie, and my sister and I had frozen yoghurt from a little shop down the street.

pink grapefruit frozen yoghurt

If you've ever been there, you probably know that the frozen yoghurt craze that has come and gone in the rest of the country two or three times never died in Palm Springs. They are everywhere. Most of them are the self-serve places with an endlessly-changing armory of flavors, and if you know anything about me, you know that I get weak in the knees for good frozen desserts. I bypassed the standard (chocolate and cheesecake) and odder (red velvet cake?) flavors and went straight for the pink grapefruit.

It was perfect. Not too sweet and with a bold citrusy flavor, I could as easily imagine it served in a shot glass as a palate cleanser at a fancy restaurant as from a paper cup at a country fair. I immediately proclaimed that I would recreate it when I got home, but grapefruit season was already past, and within a few months all I was making in my churn were strawberry ice creams and sorbets.

A couple weeks ago, though, I saw fragrant grapefruit at the store and decided to dive in. Winter may not be much to talk about here in L.A., but even when I lived in colder climes winter never stopped me from eating ice cream. After all, anecdata (I can't find any reputable information) says that we Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than any other state.

frozen yoghurt

It was worth the wait. The resulting frozen yoghurt is the palest pink (if you used red grapefruit it would probably be a bit darker) and not too tart—the acidity of the grapefruit really comes through.

Pink Grapefruit Frozen Yoghurt
After a little bit of research on Yelp, I discovered that we had gone to Yogurt on Tap, which claims to be the first self-serve frozen yogurt shop in Palm Springs (they also claim that frozen yoghurt is a healthy dessert, so have at it, I guess).

8 ounces granulated sugar (1 cup)
zest of 2 grapefruits
2 cups fresh pink grapefruit juice (from 2-3 grapefruit)
2 cups plain, whole milk yoghurt

Rub the zest into the sugar in a small saucepan (supposedly this distributes the oils for better flavor; I don't know if it really does anything, but I do it anyway). Add one cup of the juice and heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Mix in the additional juice and pour through a sieve into a large bowl, pressing out as much liquid as possible from the zest. Discard the solids and thoroughly chill the syrup mixture.

Add the yoghurt, stirring until combined. For a perfectly smooth mixture you will want to use a blender or immersion blender, as stirring will probably result in some small chunks of yoghurt that refuse to mix in. I ignored them and they mixed up fine in the churn (and saved me some dishes). Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Makes one quart

11 February 2012

Better than medicine

Sometimes I think I should have named this the Blog of Ugly Food. Chilaquiles; Split Pea Soup; Baingan Bharta; and now Lentil-Sausage Stew.

I last made this soup a few weeks ago, but I've spent the past three days huddled on my couch with the mother of all chest colds. While I've been eating little more than soup, it's been basic noodles in broth, and I've been longing for another bowl of this.

lentils with kielbasa

This soup—really more of a stew, as it's very thick and chunky—is a family tradition from the same origin as these oat cookies. I've changed the recipe over the years: I use white wine instead of red (although my mom usually decreases the amount or eliminates it entirely); I've increased the vegetables and decreased the amount of sausage; and I use stock (preferably homemade) instead of dried bouillon. In the nine years that I didn't eat meat, I left out the sausage (and even occasionally substituted vegetarian substitutes)

This soup quickly became a tradition in chilly Alaskan winters; not only is it warm, comforting, and easy, but it's even better a day or two after you make it.

lentil-sausage stew

Lentil-Sausage Stew
From a photocopied page of an unknown cookbook. If you like, cut a few slices of sausage on a diagonal, sear just before serving and use them to top the stew. If you leave out the sausage, you may want to add a little bit of smoked salt to finish.

8 ounces dry brown lentils (1¼ cups)
12 ounces smoked kielbasa or Polish sausage, halved and thinly sliced (optional)
3 large carrots, chopped (about 1½ cups)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or a mixture of stock and water, divided
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons butter
½ large onion, diced (about 1 ½ cups)
3 stalks celery, chopped (1 generous cup)
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup white wine
salt & pepper

Rinse and drain the lentils. Combine with the sliced sausage and carrots in a 4 quart dutch oven or heavy oven-safe pot. Add 3 cups of the stock and the bay leaf and bring to a boil; lower heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onion and celery until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook 1-2 minutes more, stirring constantly. Add the remaining 1 cup stock and the wine; cook, stirring often, until thickened and just brought to a boil, 3-4 minutes more.

Stir the onion mixture into the stew. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer to the oven. Bake, uncovered, at least 40 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Garnish with seared sausage if desired. Serve with sour cream and warm bread.

Serves 6 or more