I once wrote a post on here called Ten Things You Should Never Serve At A Dinner Party that was mildly controversial. Craig’s sister Kristin was offended that I included “boneless, skinless chicken breasts,” so on my next visit to Washington State, she cooked up a Chicken Piccata that really put in me in place.
And now I’m about to put myself in my own place by refuting number ten on that list: sorbet. Here’s what I wrote then: “This is a dinner party, not a cleanse. If you’re feeling lazy, that’s fine, but at the very least, have the decency to serve us ice cream. But sorbet? SORBET? That’s it…I’m leaving.” Wow, I don’t even recognize the person who wrote that… especially now that I’ve made the sorbet that I’m about to tell you about. But first, the context.
Wow, that’s a mouthful, but you have to admit it sounds good. I got the idea from the New York Times Cooking newsletter; Kim Severson was guest writing it for the day and she mentioned a trick she learned from our mutual friend Bill Addison who learned it from Nancy Silverton (how’s that for a game of telephone?). The trick is this: when making a cobbler or a crisp, brown some butter, scrape in the seeds from a vanilla bean and then stir the whole mixture in with the fruit. As far as ideas go, this is right up there with E = mc2. (How do you get the 2 up there? Where’s Einstein when you need him?)
I have a theory that Starbucks has heightened our tolerance for bad, sad pastries. There’ve been moments in my life, at an airport, at a rest stop, where I break down and order a slice of a Starbucks lemon pound cake to go with my coffee. It tastes fine. It’s not bad. It’s sweet, cakey, nicely glazed. But it’s not, by any means, good. Most people don’t know that because most people don’t take the time to make their own glazed pound cakes; but if you do take the time, yours will be light, where theirs is dense. Yours will be authentically flavored, whereas theirs tastes synthetic. Yours will be made at home with love whereas theirs is made in a warehouse. Plus, if you make your own, you can use tangerines instead of lemons.
When people enthuse about something they ate, it’s always a good idea to pay attention. For example, two weeks ago I was at Park’s BBQ in Koreatown with our friends Jim and Jess, and also our friends Jimmy and Raef, and as we were fighting over grilled pieces of rib-eye and skirt steak, Jim mentioned this amazing dessert he and Jess once ate nearby at a place called Mr. Boba. “It’s seriously like the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” he said and before I could yell “Hyperbole!” Jess echoed the sentiment. Which led me to say, “Then why don’t we go there after this?” And everyone nodded their heads in approval.
You and me, we have a lot of history together, a history that covers a lot of cheese and a lot of chocolate. There was the time I made a cheese plate for Craig’s birthday dessert and the time I had a Gourmet Grilled Cheese Night. Chocolate-wise, where do we even begin? There’s a whole category of my site devoted to the stuff. And yet never before, until today, have I brought these two beloved worlds together on one plate: cheese and chocolate? Together? Have I lost my marbles? No, not at all. Turns out, they make a terrific pairing.
Cookies, cookies everywhere and not a chocolate chip cookie in sight. Look, let’s be honest about Christmas cookies: they’re fun to look at but are they really fun to eat? Most of them taste like cardboard with over-sweetened frosting slathered on. While everyone tries to reproduce the cover of Bon Appetit (which is, admittedly, pretty stunning), why don’t you do what I’d do and make a batch of these comforting, hot from the oven chocolate chip cookies from one of America’s greatest bakers? As someone who makes a lot of chocolate chip cookies (Martha’s, whole wheat, Eric Wolitzky’s, ones with cranberries and oats) these may be the most wholesome and comforting I’ve yet made, partially because they’re packed with walnuts.
Now let’s get to the serious business at hand: Thanksgiving dessert.
Oh, I know what you’re going to tell me, that this is a pie holiday and that offering up a cake at Thanksgiving is like offering up a latke at Christmas. Well you’re speaking to a latke person at Christmas, so of course I’m going to steer you in a cake-direction—especially after that discussion in one of my podcasts where we determined that Christians are pie people and Jews are cake people. And if there’s one cake that Jews do better than anyone else, it’s cheesecake. And this one, with its combination of a pumpkin and chocolate is a whopper of a Thanksgiving dessert. It’s so good, your guests will actually be excited to eat it, which is more than I can say for pumpkin pie.
When it comes to food, the holidays–and by holidays, I mean the big three: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas–are like rides at Disneyland: you almost always know what you’re going to get. That’s what makes them so comfortingly familiar. Alter the turkey, sub out the latke, or cancel the Christmas cookies and you’re looking for a world of trouble. So accept this holiday dessert despite whatever resistance you might feel; it’s my humble creation based on a bottle of Amarula, a cream liquer from South Africa, that I was sent in the mail. I took one sip and thought: “Rice pudding…with toasted almonds!”