Monday, June 19

10 Nut-Free Desserts to Make Summer a Little Sweeter

This summer my wine of choice is a Spanish Rosé (I haven't met one I didn't like).  My outfit of choice is an airy summer sundress.  And my motto of choice is "keep it simple."  Meals are lighter and freer.  Ingredients are fresher, preparation is simpler.   I flutter around the kitchen, barefoot, like a robin building a nest, gathering a bit of this and a bite of that and weaving all the pieces together into something that resembles a meal.  Then everything goes outside to the table in the shade, a refuge from the heat of the kitchen.  I don't know if it's the breeze that blows down off the mountains in the evening or the heat that radiates from the patio stones beneath my bare toes, but everything tastes a little sweeter out there under the trees.  I love to sit long into the evening, sipping a last glass of wine while the kids run around the yard or hop the fence to play with the neighbors.  When twilight falls we cover the table with candles and sit a little longer.  Summer is the season for savoring!

Here are 10 of my family's favorite summertime dessert recipes.  These are the ones I come back to summer after summer, year after year.  They're a snapshot of everything I love about summer, and of course, they're all peanut and tree nut free.

Friday, June 9

Pretty Please Pink Cherry Cocktail

It was the summer of 1997 and I was in a floral mini skirt, topped by a black leather bomber jacket that smelled of cigarettes and musky perfume (Malibu Musk).  It matched my favourite combat boots.  A scarf in the same print as the skirt held my hair back in a high pony tail in a 1950s-preppy-meets-punk-rock-grunge sort of way.  A pair of Ray-Bans perched on top of my head.  I felt so grown up at 17.

Aerosmith had just released their Nine Lives album, and my hometown was one of the first stops on the tour!  We had terrible seats, my friends and I, possibly the worst in the house - up in the very last row of the balcony, next to the dark, grimy back wall of the arena where guys would sneak off to and pee when they didn't want to miss the show.  But we didn't care.  To us they were perfect.  We were free up there in the "nose-bleed" section.  Free in a way that can only be experienced within the universe of a 17 year old on the cusp of adulthood, but not quite there yet.  Except, on that night we were.

Wednesday, May 24

A Case of Botched Banana Bread

High Altitude Banana Bread by Rebecca Sherrow

I love a good mystery...but not when it comes to baking.

Everyone has their favourite banana bread recipe, it seems.  I'm no exception.  This is the one recipe to which I turn whenever there's a bunch of bananas turning brown on the counter.  But that wasn't always the case.  Baking in the mountains of Colorado is so different from baking at sea level.  When we first moved back here from the Florida coast I had a mystery on my hands.  If I were writing a book, I might call it, "The Curious Case of the Botched Banana Bread"...

I approached the ingredients in my favourite recipe as if they were the cast of characters in the novel:  Ms. Butter and Colonel Flour were discovered in the kitchen with a failed loaf of banana bread and a whisk.  An old banana peel was found on the floor between them.  Who caused the bread to sink?  Who sabotaged the crispy crust?

Thursday, April 27

Vanilla-Ginger Mojito

Last month I came across an article about how you can tell a lot about someone by the way they take their drinks, and I've been secretly observing my friends' drink habits ever since.  It's fascinating!  Do they take their coffee with a splash of milk in the morning and with sugar after lunch? (They're easygoing & laid back.)  Enjoy a little Glenlivet in the afternoon? (An artist!)  Margarita with colleagues after work? (The year-round spring-breaker.)  Drink wine only after eight? (Responsible to the nth degree.)

As a rule, I like my morning coffee black (moody) and my tea with a lump of sugar (dangerous!).  I like a glass of Rosé while I cook; whisky on rare winter evenings; martinis stirred & dirty. (I prefer sandals & sundresses; tend to be melancholy; am trying too hard!)  And I've never been one for fruity cocktails. (Boring!)

Last week, though, I broke my rule and made Mojitos in the afternoon.  They were inspired by an iced tea I had a few years ago that was sweetened with ginger and vanilla syrup.  The combination is amazing!  In fact, they make such nice partners, they appear side-by-side and hand-in-hand in many of my recipes.

Thursday, April 6

Three Traditions

As I'm writing this, I'm looking out the window at a cold white sky above fragile tree branches, soft with baby-green leaves, bending low to the ground under the weight of the heavy blanket of snow which continues to float from the clouds -  and I'm wondering, exactly where did spring go?  The electricity went out at 3:30 this morning - a tree that fell on the lines, they say - and it only came on briefly about an hour ago, but long enough to make a pot of coffee.  Fingers crossed that my laptop battery will hold out until it comes back on again!

I'm feeling a little nostalgic, I guess, as I watch the winter scene unfold (in April!) and here's why.  I always wanted a spring baby.  There's something so special about being born during the season of renewal and rebirth.  When I became pregnant with Eva I was elated and began thinking of Spring-inspired names and perusing the pages of the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue in search of the perfect "gardenesque" nursery set, and when we found out she was due on Easter Sunday my mind happily wandered to lilac Easter sundresses and sunny straw hats.  She ended up coming a few days before Easter and I remember that first Easter Sunday was very much like today - snowy, wet, cloudy and cold.  So much for the dreams of dresses and sun hats, but I had something better to occupy my thoughts.

Wednesday, February 22

Rum Apple Tart

As a child we used to take frequent trips to the country where my extended family lived.  My aunt and uncle owned an apple orchard, and as soon as the car pulled into their long dirt driveway my brother and I would run out into the trees, without even so much as a "Hello!" to my aunt who was waiting at the front door.  I use to love to skip between the rows of trees, imagining I was Dorothy on the yellow brick road - and there was always a dog around to play the part of Toto.

In the spring, when the branches were covered in blossoms and the orchard smelled fresh and new, we'd forage for the tender, wild asparagus that grew in the shade.  In summer, when the trees baked in the hot sun and the grass turned golden and crunched beneath our feet, we'd pick up fallen apples from off the ground and toss them at one another, pretending the sneaky trees had come to life and were throwing them at us like they did in the movie.

We'd imagine the trees had faces, tracing our fingers over eyes and noses hidden in the bark.  This one is friendly, we declared, he's smiling.  This one not so much.  Look at that scowl!  Children can find faces in almost anything.

Friday, January 27

Blood Orange & Vanilla Whisky Sour

Blood Orange Whiskey Sour

Some weeks are vodka weeks - straightforward & easy.  For some, complex but comfortable gin is more fitting.  And then there are those formidable weeks, packed with obscurities and paradoxes.  Those are best capped off with a good, old-fashioned whiskey cocktail.  And this week was definitely a "whiskey week."  It wasn't a bad week, just complicated, filled with interruptions, with contractors flooding the house, insurance adjustors descending on the roof, an enormous work project that filled every available nook and cranny and a kid home sick with the flu all week.   Luckily this "whiskey week" happened to fall during blood orange season.  That makes things less complicated.

Friday, January 6

Vanilla & Rum Biscotti

Is it just me, or does it seem like the whole northern hemisphere is buried under a blanket of snow this week?  This would be just fine with me except that instead of going back to school on Thursday like they were supposed to, the kids have had two consecutive snow days, officially making this the longest Christmas Vacation ever  - or at least it feels that way to me.  I've been working from home and spending countless hours on and off over the last two days with the snow shovel in hand, trying to kick this cabin fever, while the kids make artificial sledding hills out of the mountains of snow I'm dumping into our very flat yard.  I've discovered that it's through mundane activities like snow shoveling that my mind becomes its most creative and that's especially useful when you're snowed-in & haven't been to the market in almost a week.  I should have been coming up with creative ideas for what to make for dinner but instead I was daydreaming about what sweet treat I could whip together for a little afternoon snack - going through the contents of the (very bare) pantry in my head as the shovel scraped back & forth, up and down the driveway.

Friday, December 30

England where my heart lies {Orange-Honey Scones}

And from the shelter of my mind,
Through the window of my eyes,
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets,
To England where my heart lies.  -Kathy's Song by Simon & Garfunkel

My heart is in England today. Perhaps it's the cold, steal grey skies. The sun, just a white orb, failing to penetrate the icy clouds with its warmth. Perhaps it's the damp air that clings to my hair and jacket when I walk out the door.  It coats my lungs with a cold film that makes me cough when I inhale, and then escapes in a burst of heavy steam.  Whatever the reason, I find myself thinking of Darjeeling tea, wool sweaters, green hills, scones with orange marmalade, Paddington Bear, and all things comforting and English.

These scones take me back to college when I spent a few weeks alone in London between semesters.  I can almost remember the smell of damp bookshops & smokey tabbaco shops.  And I most certainly can recall the smell of fresh-from-the-oven scones in a warm coffee shop with chairs upholstered in torn & faded leather, tables chipped & greasy from ages of use set in front of a picture window that looked out onto a wet, verdant green hill painted on a canvas of grey, not too unlike the one just outside my window today in Colorado. That must be why I'm craving scones.  Because, although the memories are fading like the leather on those chairs, when you leave a piece of your heart somewhere, you can return whenever you like.

Thursday, December 1

Potato & Leek Soup

December blew in on an icy wind, the kind that whips down the mountainsides and cuts like a knife across the snowy valleys.  The only problem was that the snow was missing - and a cold wind that's not tempered by the softness of snow is often unbearable.  In such cases a steamy bowl of soup is absolutely necessary to take the edge off - thick and hearty soup, like my grandmother certainly would have made on a day like today.  She ate soup everyday and I could always count on there being a pot of some kind or another in her refrigerator when I visited after school.  And yes, she used to stash the entire pot in her fridge, sometimes with the wooden spoon still inside, ready to be pulled out and set on a hot burner.  I always preferred a bowl of her soup to a cookie or a slice of buttered bread as an afternoon snack.

On Tuesday, the temperature dropped as the wind arrived.  I had a few potatoes and leeks leftover from Thanksgiving, so just as soon as I got home from dropping the kids off at school that morning, I was in the kitchen peeling and chopping.  I started with Julia Child's recipe for Potage Parmentier - a classic - but as always, after stirring and tasting, I abandoned the original recipe for what I found in the kitchen.  Half an onion here, a bay leaf there, a splash of lemon juice for freshness.  I left out the cream altogether, as I try to limit the amount of dairy I eat.  The creaminess of the potatoes more than makes up for it!   As my grandmother would have done, I've had the soup in the fridge, not in the original pot, but ready for lunch everyday, nonetheless.   It only gets better as it sits.  I was almost sad to ladle the last of it into my bowl today.

Below is the recipe, but of course, its just a guideline.  Potatoes are such a versatile "blank-slate," you can add just about any vegetable or herb to this recipe.

Saturday, November 19

Cinnamon Pancakes with Calvados Apple Compote

Cinnamon Pancakes Calvados Apple Compote by Rebecca Sherrow

There are sheer, white curtains in my bedroom window and every November morning, when winter approaches and the sun is low enough in the sky, they defuse the sunlight so that my bedroom becomes a brilliant, pearlescent snow globe.  I get up much too early during the work week to see this everyday, but on the weekends I sleep until that ethereal light wakes me.

Why do I tell you this?  Because on those lazy Saturday mornings I love to linger in bed, propped up by a mountain of pillows with a notepad on my lap, mixing flavors on paper & concocting recipes in my mind to play with throughout the week.  This time is precious to me, almost like an extension of a dream, and I find I'm most creative there in those early hours, bathed in that beautiful light.  This moment lasts only 15 to 20 minutes before the sun moves on & shadows fall upon the white curtains again, but in that time I've come up with several different recipe ideas & a shopping list to take to the market later in the day, where I'll plan the rest of the week's menu.  Then it's finally time to throw on my robe and head upstairs to the kitchen where the late autumn sun is shining through a different set of windows and will continue that way through the rest of the day.  It's my very favorite way to spend a Saturday!

A recent player in these culinary daydreams has been Calvados.  In cocktails, of course, but also in compotes, cakes,  tarts, sauces and breads.  That rich, slightly bitter, apple flavour adds such complexity to both baked goods & savory dishes - I've already gone through two bottles this fall! Here's a simple recipe for Calvados Apple Compote - a favorite on pancakes but just as good on pork chops.  I've included the pancake recipe, too, because, more often than not, on those slow Saturdays, when I finally do make it to the kitchen, these are what I cook.  I hope you'll enjoy them as much as we do!

Friday, October 28

Ghosts: Liquefied with a Raspberry Chaser

Rebecca Sherrow - Liquefied Ghost Cocktail Recipe

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. 
-Edgar Allan Poe

Do you believe in ghosts?  As a kid, I was convinced my house was haunted - but what kid isn't?  There were little things - like waking in the middle of the night to the sound of men laughing in a dark corner of my room, or coming home from school to find that the contents of my dresser had been rearranged (always in the same order), or hearing - rather "feeling" - the slightest whisper over my shoulder and turning to see my posters hanging in the air before slowly drifting to the floor, always face down.

For as long as I can remember I've loved a good ghost story, so maybe these incidences were just the fabrications of an overactive imagination.  In any case, I still love them and never more than on Halloween!

This cocktail is a delicious ghost story in its own right.  It's my twist on a classic Halloween drink, The Liquefied Ghost.  I use coconut milk & finish it with a raspberry chaser - simply a purée spiked with Chambord - right in the same glass.  I freeze the purée in the glass and even though the Chambord prevents it from freezing solid, it does become firm enough that the cocktail doesn't disrupt it as it's poured.  The frozen purée keep the cocktail cold, but what I really love is that after it's thawed the cocktail stays suspended above the raspberries, even after swirling the glass, like a ghost hovering over the world of flesh and blood.   What's more fitting than that on All Hallows Eve?