Monday, January 19, 2009

two winter desserts

I never gave much thought to seasonal eating until I moved up north about six years ago. At the time, local, sustainable food was becoming more of a widespread notion, popping up on trendy restaurant menus everywhere (although lots of people like Alice Waters and James Beard had been touting this philosophy for years and years). But what really opened my eyes to the concept of slow food was actually living somewhere that had seasons.

I grew up in South Florida, which is like living in eternal summer. It's lush and green and hot all year round--except in winter, when it's slightly cooler. That's when my parents call me to report that it's a "nippy" 60 degrees and they had to put on sweatshirts. Harumph, I say. Beyond picking strawberries in the spring and eating honeybells in the winter, the year in terms of food always seemed pretty constant to me in Florida. We ate ice cream and barbecued year-round. Sometimes I drank hot chocolate for fun in December, while wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Living somewhere tropical is wonderful in a way, but also kind of like Groundhog Day. Nothing ever changes. And then I moved to New York and had my first real taste of spring, fall, and of course, winter.

As I write this, snow is falling softly outside, just barely accumulating on the bare branches outside of our windows. It's lovely to look at, especially from inside our toasty apartment. But I can't lie. I really don't like winter. I'd much rather be barefoot by a pool, drinking a glass of something cold. But I'll suffer wearing a puffy jacket in order to appreciate having the greater awareness of time passing that the seasons bring. And seasonal eating, of course. It's nice to enjoy certain types of food for a limited time only, and then move on to different things at their peak. I remember the blueberries and squash I bought and enjoyed last summer more than any other time I've cooked with them year-round. Food just tastes better when it's supposed to exist, and enjoying it at that specific time makes you really stop and savor what you're eating. Especially warm, comforting winter desserts. You knew I was going to get to the title of this post at some point, didn't you...

Rice pudding with cherries
Ohh, rice pudding. My mom makes such a good one, and this recipe, adapted from the Joy of Cooking, comes pretty close. I love this dessert for its homey simplicity, but it's totally worthy of a special dinner with a little gussying up. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top, or chocolate shavings, or grated orange peel. And don't forget the dried cherries--they are the perfect addition to this creamy pudding. I like serving it slightly warm in the winter--not boiling hot, but warm enough so that you can curl your fingers around the bowl and feel the heat.
(Serves about 6 people)

3/4 cup medium or long-grain rice (I like using jasmine rice)
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp. salt
4 cups whole milk (don't use skim for this, but 2 percent is fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup chocolate shavings, optional

In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, water, and salt. Place on medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, then cover and cook until the water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Add the milk, sugar, and cherries. Cook uncovered for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the pudding is done, the rice and milk should form a thick porridge and the rice should be tender but still have a slight bite. When done, remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Serve warm, with chocolate shavings.

Apple crisp with dried cherries
Filled with juicy apples and an aromatic blend of orange zest, nutmeg, and cinnamon, this is a perfect winter dessert. The recipe is a twist on the pear crisp I made awhile back. The filling is pretty flexible; you can substitute pears, or use a combo of apples and pears. You can also omit the cherries or add dried cranberries, although I think the dried cherries add just the right amount of tart contrast to the apples. I've been putting them in everything lately, including straight in my mouth. I brought this dessert to Christmas dinner and it was devoured by everyone. Except Rose, Jennifer and Mark's four-year-old daughter. "I don't even like this," she said, handing back her bowl. Can't please everyone!
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/2 cups gluten-free almond flour)
1/2 cup whole almonds with skin (untoasted)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup dried cherries
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated orange peel
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 lbs. Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

To make the topping, pulse together flour, almonds, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor until the nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and pulse just until blended. Coarsely crumble in a shallow baking pan (I put it in a small bowl) and chill at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine first 7 filling ingredients in a large bowl; stir to blend. Add apples and lemon juice and toss to blend. Pour filling into an 11 by 7 by 2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 2-quart baking dish). Crumble the topping over the filling. Bake for about 1 hour, until the topping is golden and juices are bubbling around the sides. Cool before serving and top with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


Daniel said...

These desserts are delciious, but winter sucks.

I'd like to be lounging in the pool right now with one of those floating cup holders for my rice pudding.

Jennifer Henry said...

Oh, Lisa, I still cringe when I rememebr Rose presenting her bowl back and saying "I don't even like this"! She may well live to regret that moment of brutal honesty, if you continue along your trajectory to culinary superstardom and repeat that witty anecdote one night to David Letterman.

Lisa said...

No need to cringe! Little Rose was just being honest. And unlike many of the other pampered little children in our neighborhood, at least she tried the crisp before deeming it inedible. Horribly, horribly, inedible. Not that I am hurt or anything...

heather said...

Hi! thanks for this post I have a dinner party to go to soon + the them is comfort winter food and I am responsible for the dessert so I will be making one (or both) of these.


Lisa said...

Hi Heather--I hope they turn out great--let me know!

PS: Your dog is VERY cute.

heather said...

Hey Lisa!

I am getting ready to make the apple + cherry dish + had a few questions I am hoping you can answer. The recipe says to add the almonds to the toppings but doesn't how much (and are they toasted?) and on the bottom part the recipe says to add the first 8 ingredients and then add the apples + lemon juice (the apples are ingredient #8 so I am confused - is there an ingredient missing there as well?) THANKS! + thanks for the comment about my dog!

Lisa said...

Hey Heather!

Ooh--I kind of suck! I just re-read this recipe, and yes, there are some typos. How embarrassing. I fixed the recipe so all should be fixed. Yes, you add some whole almonds to the topping. I didn't toast mine, but of course you can toast yours. I think that would add an extra bit of flavor. The number of ingredients was slightly off, but the rest of the recipe should be fine. Thanks for bringing that to my attention and I hope it turns out deliciously! Lisa

Lisa said...

One additional note: if you do not want to add the extra almonds, you totally don't have to. They mainly provide an extra textural crunch and can be omitted if you'd rather leave them out.

heather said...

Hey there! I made the crisp and it was received with MUCH praise and it was perfectly sweet and tart - I loved it with vanilla ice cream. I fortunately had doubled the batch so I had lots left over to enjoy for a while. (Sorry for the delay in commenting back to you - I have a newborn...) Thanks for all your help along the way! :)

Lisa said...

Aw, thanks for checking back, Heather! I love hearing how things turn out. So glad you liked the recipe and forgave my sloppy ingredient omissions!

You were smart to make extra, it's soo good for breakfast.

Take care,


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