Archive for Light Delights

Chocolate Sorbet That Makes Me Melt

chocolate sorbet

For a couple years, I’ve been trying to create the perfect chocolate sorbet: an intensely flavored mixture of low-fat cocoa and water that tastes as decadent as premium ice cream. I reverse-engineered my favorite sorbet from Ciao Bella, but it melted faster than you can say “Frosty the Snowman.” Since I didn’t have the patience to tinker it, I tried other recipes that were too icy, too grainy, and too caramely.

I was about to accept defeat until Alice Medrich, author of Pure Dessert, came to the rescue. Her recipe tasted like a melted chocolate bar, but it was practically fat free. Unlike most homemade ice creams, it stayed creamy for days. Move over, Ciao Bella.

The secret to this recipe was a new spin on kitchen wisdom. Oftentimes, hot water is combined with cocoa to coax out the flavors. I failed in my previous sorbet attempts because I boiled the mixture, thinking more heat equaled more flavor. According to Alice, too much heat destroys the flavor of cocoa. You want the mixture to be hot but not cooked to death.

This tip applies to other recipes, like hot cocoa. Whenever I made hot cocoa in the past, I’d microwave the whole thing–soy milk, cocoa, and sugar–in one mug. What’s with those instructions that say, “Pour boiling water over cocoa?” Why would I want to get another pot or cup dirty? For the best chocolate flavor, you really do need two containers. Heat your milk, all alone, in one vessel. Add just enough liquid to the cocoa mixture to make a paste, and then add the rest. Some of you might want to save a cup by dumping the cocoa on top of the milk, but don’t. It will clump.

Chocolate Sorbet
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

1 cup (3.25 oz) cocoa
Scant 1 cup sugar
2 tiny pinches salt
2 cups boiling water
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tbsp rum or vodka (optional)

Combine cocoa, sugar, salt in saucepan and whisk in 1/2 cup boiling water to make a thick paste. Add the remaining water. Stir over medium heat just until tiny bubbles form at the edges of the pan. Don’t cook any longer, as the heat can damage the flavor of the cocoa.

Take the mixture off the heat and add the vanilla. Refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours. Add the rum or vodka, if using. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Harden the sorbet in the freezer for at least 3 to 4 hours.

Note: The flavor is so rich that you can substitute half of the water with milk.

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Frogurt Alert 2: Times Square


My favorite brand of plain frozen yogurt (not Pinkberry) has just arrived in Times Square! One month ago, A Zest Cafe started serving Frogurt, the ultra-smooth and refreshingly tangy treat. A small is $3.50, a large $4.50. It doesn’t get any better than this, unless you make your own.

Another landmark, Grand Central station, has Frogurt too, but not the plain flavor. Also, watch out for the warm machines, which makes the yogurt melt quickly. Maybe someone should ask them to calibrate their machines.

The cheapest place for Frogurt (only $2.50) is at Zabar’s Cafe, but it’s all the way on the Upper West Side, and they close at 7:00 P.M. While you’re there, you can also try the frozen custard, but never order the babka muffin, which wins the award for driest muffin.

A Zest Cafe, 1441 Broadway (by 40th St.), New York, NY (212-398-9378)

Ben & Jerry’s/Oren’s Daily Roast, Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY (212-953-1028)

Zabar’s Cafe (sold as Zaberry), 2245 Broadway (at 80th St.), New York, NY (212-787-2000)

Photo: Zabar’s

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Poached Prunes: Deceptively Simple, Totally Delicious

stewed prunes with orange zest

Prunes are nature’s most unhip fruits. Perceived as dry and wrinkly, they elicit snickers and jokes about old people and regularity. But cast the bad reputation aside, and you’ll see that they’re unsung jewels. Sweet as candy, they’re also packed with fiber and vitamin A. They’re not leathery either; prunes are some of the moistest, softest dried fruits around.

Stewed fruits are such common low-fat desserts that I forget how good they are. In this week’s L.A. Times, David Lebovitz provided a recipe for tea-poached prunes with citrus. It’s deceptively simple (just boil prunes in sugar-water for 10 minutes), but the flavors are complex: the rich, plump prunes are brightened up with just-tart enough oranges.

You can eat these by themselves, but they’re a wonderful backdrop for creamed cottage cheese ice cream; plain frozen yogurt; homemade ricotta cheese; or fresh, puréed tofu, above. (If you have a soy milk machine, making tofu is simple. You don’t need to buy a tofu mold or any mysterious chemicals. While the milk is still hot, just stir in a small amount of Epsom salt [which you can get in a drug store] or lemon juice, and drain in a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Epsom salt produces a softer tofu, and lemon juice a tangier one, but they’re more accessible than magnesium chloride, the best coagulant.)

Tea-Poached Prunes with Fresh Orange Segments

Adapted from David Lebovitz‘s recipe in the L.A. Times

Active time: 15 min
Start to finish: 40 minutes
Servings: 4

2-3 tablespoons sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
1 strip of lemon or orange zest, about 1/2-inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long
2 bags of Earl Grey or any black tea, tags removed
20 to 25 prunes

Accompaniments: Fresh orange segments; creamed cottage cheese ice cream, plain frozen yogurt, homemade ricotta cheese, or puréed tofu

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, zest and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Add the tea bags and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the prunes and continue to gently simmer for about 10 minutes, or until they’re tender. If the prunes are large or especially dry, they make take longer. If necessary, add a bit more water to keep them covered.

Once the prunes are tender, remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Remove the tea bags and gently squeeze them to extract additional flavor before discarding them.

Serve with oranges and the snowy white “cream” of your choice.

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One Person’s Trash is Another’s Nutella Bread Pudding

Nutella bread pudding

When eating out, I am notorious for bringing home every piece of uneaten food. I’ve asked waiters to wrap cranberry compote (what else will go with leftover pumpkin pancakes?) and the bread basket. This weekend, I took home leftover bread cubes from the fondue at Artisanal. If you’re paying for quality, why let it go to waste?

Laugh all you want, but if you threw that bread in the trash, you would have missed out on Nutella bread pudding. It’s like baked French toast with swirls of chocolate. Bread pudding is perfect for stale artisanal bread, the kind that’s marked 50% off at the end of the day (although white sandwich bread will do). Hot out of the oven, you get the contrast of a jiggly, spongy bottom and a crunchy, crouton-like top. Bread pudding is also divine cold, in a cold pizza/morning hangover type of way. Not that I would know.

In New Orleans, my friend Erik spent a grueling night scrubbing burnt bread and custard off a pan because we didn’t use a water bath. At the risk of offending Erik, I never use a water bath for bread pudding at home. I like the crusty edges.

Not only is this recipe a delicious way to clean out your pantry (I used soy milk and leftover Nutella babka), but it’s low in fat, too.

Nutella Bread Pudding

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse and Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

Oil, for greasing pan
1/4 cup Nutella
8 slices day-old crusty bread or Nutella babka (about 4 cups when cut into 1/2-inch cubes)
4 large eggs
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups milk (soy is fine)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease an 8 by 8-inch square pan with oil.

Spread Nutella on four slices of bread and top with remaining pieces of bread. Cut the sandwiches into 1/2-inch cubes.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla until very smooth. Stir in milk and add the bread. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, about 55 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Slather the top with more Nutella, if desired. Bread pudding is best hot out of the oven, or refrigerated after a day. Microwaving it makes it rubbery.

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A pear 1,300 years in the making

pile of pears

These fruits have waxy skins and stems that are too long for their own good. They look like the offspring of apples, guavas and pears. I would have ignored them at the market if it weren’t for my grandmother, a Chinese version of Martha Stewart. She makes her own chili paste and drinks goji berry-logan elixir every day. She introduced me to “hollow” greens (because the stems resemble straws), jujube dates and now, fragrant pears.

fragrant pear

It sounds like a vague description, but that’s their proper name. Farmers have grown these pears in China’s Xinjiang region for 1,300 years, but they’ve only been in the U.S. for about a year. (I discovered these pears right when they came here, but by the time I wanted to write about them, they were out of season. Now I appear out of the loop.)

juicy fragrant pear

Other Asian pears are crunchy and light, but the flesh is gritty and not very sweet. The skin is also thick and bitter. Fragrant pears are even crispier, but they are also sweet. Despite the skin’s appearance, they’re also entirely edible (except for the seeds of course). They are so juicy that you need to slurp quickly after taking a bite.

They are in season now, so head over to your local Chinatown or fancy supermarket. They’re not for the eco-conscious (it takes lots of jet fuel and protective packaging to ship them here), but they are very special.

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Creamed Cheese Ice Cream

Cottage cheese ice cream swirled with raspberry preserves

Poor cottage cheese is the butt of all jokes (no pun intended). It’s seen as tasteless diet food, yet no one wants to be called “cottage cheese thighs.” Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts should have changed all that. She discovered that puréed cottage cheese becomes as smooth and elegant as sour cream.

In Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, Alice Medrich makes sublime tiramisù and cheesecake with “Maida’s Cream.” I don’t even bother with the full-fat versions anymore. Since puréed cottage cheese can stand in for mascarpone cheese, cream cheese and sour cream, I wondered if its richness could translate to ice cream.

Since simple is often best, I substituted the puréed cheese for the strained yogurt in David Lebovitz’s plain frozen yogurt recipe. I added some oil (since cottage cheese is lean) and a splash of vodka to keep it scoopable. The end result was pure tasting and luscious. It’s less tart than plain frozen yogurt, so it’s more amenable to add-ins, like chocolate.

It’s best eaten two hours after it’s made, or else it gets rock hard. There’s a couple ways to remedy this issue: use more sugar, prepare a custard base (try substituting 2 cups of puréed cottage cheese for the cream) or let the cold ice cream sit on your counter for 15 minutes.


freshly churned cottage cheese ice cream

Cottage Cheese Ice Cream

Recipe based on techniques from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts, The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz and The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 cups (681 g) 1% low-fat, no salt added cottage cheese
3/4 to 1 cup (150 to 200g) sugar, depending on your sweet tooth
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1 1/2 Tbsp oil
1 1/2 Tbsp vodka

  1. In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and blend for 3-5 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides with a spatula a couple times. It’s important not to cheat on the processing time, or else the cheese won’t get perfectly smooth. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Harden it in the freezer for a couple hours, and then eat it all!

Variation: To make fruit-swirled ice cream, have ready 1/4 cup of your favorite preserves. After the ice cream is done churning, drop a tablespoon of preserves to the bottom of the storage container. Drop spoonfuls of preserves between layers of ice cream. Don’t stir too much, or you’ll lose the swirls.

Note: Try to get cottage cheese without additives, like gums or starches. I like the no-salt added variety, or else it’s too salty for dessert (do you really need 15% of your daily sodium in one serving?). The shorter the ingredient list, the better. Friendship makes great tasting, all-natural cottage cheese, although the curds are too firm to get perfectly smooth.

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Don’t try this at home: Desserts on ice

cilantro granita topped with blueberry sorbet

Don’t you hate it when cookbooks, magazines and blogs have lovely pictures of food that you can’t make at home? I assure you, not everything I make is pretty or delicious. I only reserve the best recipes for this blog, but now I’ll take you into my mishaps through this new column: Don’t try this at home. I won’t post the recipes in the recipe index because they’re so bad, but sometimes you can learn as much from your mistakes as your successes.

A while back, I received a free sample of True Blue blueberry juice. The name implied that it’s 100% pure blueberry juice. It was a great concept and tasted like real berries, but it was made from blueberry and grape juice concentrates, plus added sugar. It might as well been called “reconstituted blueberry-blended cocktail.” The selling point was also the antioxidants, but you have to drink two cups of juice (220 calories) to get the same amount of antioxidants as 1/2 cup of blueberries. No thanks. I’d rather eat a pint of blueberries for the same amount of calories and get the extra fiber. And if I’m thirsty, I’ll just drink water.

Hoping to rid myself of 32 pounds of juice (aren’t you proud that I carried it all to my door?), I boiled down several cups into a concentrated syrup. I wanted to see if it was possible to make sorbet only out of fruit juice. Since sorbets are 25-30% sugar by weight*, and the juice only had 12% sugar, I reduced it over several hours. Then I added a little lime juice to brighten up the flavors. After I froze everything, an unappetizing syrup leached out from the sorbet. It was a tell-tale sign that it had too much sugar. Either my calculations were wrong, or the liquid kept evaporating as it cooled. Also, the sorbet didn’t taste like blueberries anymore. It was astringent and drying, like grape juice. So no, you can’t make sorbet only out of fruit juice, for reasons that I’ll get into later.

While the sorbet sat in my freezer (who wants to eat sticky, fast-melting sorbet?), I made another frozen dessert from Florence Fabricant’s shiso granita recipe in the New York Times. I substituted one bunch of leftover cilantro, since it’s a close cousin of shiso. After I froze it, it looked as appetizing as wheatgrass juice. It tasted like Mexican salsa gone bad. Plus, it wasn’t sweet enough.

Here I had two desserts: one with too much sugar and one with too little. Voila, I combined them and made them semi-edible. I wouldn’t recommend that you do the same though.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t put cilantro in dessert. Ever.
  • Don’t boil fruit juice for long periods of time. The delicate flavors will disappear, while the less desirable ones will get stronger.
  • If you want to make sorbet out of fruit juice, you need to add sugar rather than boil it to death.
  • Liquids evaporate as they cool. If you measure one cup of hot liquid and think, “Perfect! That’s the right amount!” you’ll have considerably less when you actually use it.

*Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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Frogurt Alert in Grand Central

Frogurt frozen yogurt
Photo: Anisa/Food and Whine

The other day, I thought I hallucinated when I saw a woman carrying a cup of swirly soft-serve from Ben & Jerry’s in Grand Central Station. Could it be? Did Ben & Jerry’s finally replace its synthetic Tasti D-Lite with real frozen yogurt? Yes, not only was Tasti out, but the best brand of frozen yogurt took its place: Frogurt.

Frogurt is smooth and thick, almost like frozen custard. If you’ve had the misfortune of tasting Pinkberry, give the plain Frogurt a try. It’s my favorite out of all the brands I’ve tried, including Columbo, TCBY, Yolato and Canada’s Yogen Fruz. It’s also the most economical option at Ben & Jerry’s for $2.75 for a small. Pinkberry is $5 for an icy mound with a hole in the middle.

Up until recently, Frogurt was the foodie’s secret at 40 Carrots Cafe in Bloomingdale’s. The problem is, the “small” can feed two ravenous people. But I might have to frequent Bloomingdale’s, since Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t stock the tangy plain flavor.

Here’s other locations to get plain Frogurt. Or, try making your own.

40 Carrots at Bloomingdale’s
59 Street & Lexington Avenue
1000 Third Avenue (Upper East Side)
504 Broadway (Soho)

Zabar’s Cafe (sold as Zaberry)
2245 Broadway (at 80th St.), New York, NY 10024

Cafe Lalo
201 W 83rd St (between Broadway & Amsterdam)

Lord and Taylor
424 Fifth Ave. (at 38 St.)

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Breakfast Salad

spinach salad with strawberries, walnuts and granola
Graphic: created from my photos, Stemlit Growers, Cook Almost Anything, Second Breakfast

The other day, I had a great salad that blurred the boundaries between savory and sweet. It was for lunch, but it could fare equally well for breakfast. Upon a bed of baby spinach, there was crunchy candied walnuts, soft cheese, strawberries, blueberries and the real topper: granola.

A couple restaurants in New York, like Ceci-Cela, pair strawberries with spinach salad. It’s a natural progression of strawberries and balsamic vinegar. If it sounds weird, don’t think of it as strawberries and vinegar. Just think of it as strawberries and acid, like lemon juice. Acid brightens flavors, and balsamic vinegar adds another layer of richness.

The granola was ingenious, standing in for standard croutons. I want to give credit where it’s due, but I have no idea who catered the leftover salad that I stole ate. So, whoever ordered the 2nd floor Court TV lunch on July 25, please step forward!

Breakfast Salad

Serves 4
Adapted from an unknown catering company

If you’re supposed to eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper, here’s an easy way to get your greens at the start of the day. You can make your own vinaigrette, buy Olde Cape Cod’s excellent raspberry dressing or just toss the salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to taste.


8 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup strawberry vinaigrette
1 cup sliced hulled strawberries
1/4 cup blueberries
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (4 ounces)
1/4 cup candied walnuts
1/2 cup granola clusters

Lazy directions: Toss all ingredients together and eat.

Meticulous directions: In a large bowl, toss the spinach, strawberries and blueberries with the salad dressing. Top each salad with the cheese, walnuts and granola.

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Raw Yeah! Maple-Pecan Ice Cream

raw vegan maple-pecan ice cream

Chocolate is my undoing year round, but ice cream is my undoing during the summer. I love nudging it with my tongue and letting it gracefully melt away. But every so often, a little voice nags me: “You shouldn’t eat so much ice cream because it’s bad…

…for the environment.” I bet you thought I was going to say it was bad for you. True, but did you know that one cup of milk yields 116 pounds of cow manure? Not only is manure trash, but its stinky gases contribute to global warming. It also takes 14 trillion gallons of irrigation water and 22 billion pounds of fertilizer to produce feed for U.S. livestock each year. The amount of energy it takes to produce that fertilizer could provide power to 1 million Americans a year.

Most people realize the tenets of eating humanely raised animals or cutting back on meat. However, the amount of food and water it takes to keep those animals alive could feed thousands, if not millions, of starving people. That’s why I limit dairy and eggs in my diet too.

So Delicious chocolate ice cream

I like the idea of dairy-free ice cream, but brands like So Delicious, Double Rainbow and Temptation are chalky and hard. You have to eat a lot to feel satisfied, giving you the Snackwell’s effect (remember when people thought it was okay to eat 10 cookies at a time because they were low-fat?). Homemade soy ice cream doesn’t fare much better.

I just about gave up on vegan ice cream, until I picked up Raw, by acclaimed chefs Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein. Raw foodists believe that heating anything above 118 degrees destroys its natural enzymes. The cuisine is full of fresh produce, nuts and sprouts.

It sounds great in theory, but evidently they never heard of lycopene, an antioxidant that tomatoes release only when cooked. Also, shipping coconuts from Thailand year round negates eating locally and in season. Hmm, what polutes the air more: jet fuel for coconuts or fertilizer for cows?

Raw “cooking” is also labor intensive. Sure, you could spend several days sprouting grains and dehydrating “bread,” if that was your only job. Before Roxanne’s restaurant closed in 2004 (they couldn’t keep up with the $10 million in costs), they had one guy devoted to cracking coconuts for the pad thai noodles and ice cream.

Luckily, Raw’s recipe for maple-pecan ice cream is doable. There’s only two ingredients. Hint: I just told you what they were. In typical raw fashion, you soak nuts overnight and combine them with maple syrup. Nuts normally have 75% fat and 25% protein, but once they’re soaked and sprouted, the ratio reverses, according to Klein. In raw food theory, nuts and seeds don’t grow into trees because the enzymes are dormant. You have to soak them for optimal nutrition. That sounds nice, but with that analogy, soaked nuts and seeds should grow into trees inside you.

I have a habit of toasting nuts to bring out their flavors, so I couldn’t resist here. The roasted pecan ice cream had a slightly richer flavor, but it was also a little greasier. Raw nuts work fine here, because the soaking enhances their flavor.

It’s creamy, relatively good for you (with minerals and heart-healthy fats), and you won’t care that it’s vegan! Like the plain frozen yogurt, this ice cream is best eaten the same day it’s made. Even with the addition of vodka (to lower the freezing point), it gets hard the next day, and the nutty bits become more pronounced.

Maple-Pecan Ice Cream
from Raw, by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein

2 cups raw or toasted pecans, soaked for eight to 10 hours in filtered water
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons vodka (optional)

Drain the pecans, reserving 1 cup of the water. In a high-speed blender, combine the pecans, the 1 cup of water, maple syrup and vodka (if using), and process until smooth. Pass the purée through a fine-mesh sieve, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

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