In the blistering heat of a summer’s day a battalion of gardeners in full purple T-shirted regalia toils beneath my window plying their weaponry against the unruly grass. They strive to conquer all they survey with baying mowers, droning blowers and edger wands with the ear-splitting sound of concrete on steel.
Adding to their fearsome cacophony are whining electric drills and triple-octave cicadas telegraphing for the perfect mate. The drills are the worst. Long after the landscapers have moved on and the bugs have cast off their brittle casings, homeowners, spurred by an overdose of do-it-yourself shows, will still be building, re-building, repairing, sanding, painting and patching up what seems like every wall and roof in the neighborhood. Did I mention the road crews?
Here in my cool cocoon, I have strategized my own military operation geared to thrash back the blistering temperatures with frosty ice cream treats and luscious fruit cobblers. I consider this an important mission.
A few summers ago Wheeler Del Toro, author of “The Vegan Scoop,” was serving up samples of his recipes at National Harbor’s Food and Wine Festival. Founder of the Boston-based Wheeler’s Frozen Dessert Company, Del Toro learned his craft at the posh Berthillon ice cream shop in Paris and turned his knowledge and skills into his own interpretation of the icy confection by using all-vegan ingredients.
Now I am most assuredly not vegan, but I do try to limit my consumption of dairy products when at all feasible. So this month I finally got around to trying out some recipes from the book. I started out with Del Toro’s cantaloupe, which was not rich enough. Then the strawberry, not luscious enough and the berries too chunky and hard. I was really excited about the red bean, hoping to replicate any one of the versions I enjoy in Japanese restaurants. Here I met with another failure when I inadvertently used a jar of a red bean paste called for in the recipe, but, alas, didn’t notice the second ingredient on the jar read salt! The whole horrid mess met the drain with a vengeance!
Feeling as though nothing worse could befall my amateur attempts, I hit upon my tour de force: quasi-vegan (since I used Nestle’s chocolate chips) coffee ice cream with bittersweet chocolate chunks and almonds. ‘Quasi’ … more convenient and economical and I didn’t want to have to jettison a cup of chopped Scharffen Berger if things didn’t go my way yet again.
I became convinced that substituting the arrowroot called for in the recipe for cornstarch was the clincher. The final product had a smoother mouth feel and more body. Just remember if you decide to try it my way the ratio is one part arrowroot to two parts cornstarch.
Dairy-Free Coffee Ice Cream
From “The Vegan Scoop,” adapted by Jordan Wright
1 cup (235 ml) plain soymilk (not the light variety), divided
2 tablespoons (16 g)
arrowroot powder (or 4 tablespoons corn starch)
2 cups (plain) soy creamer
3/4 cup (175 ml) fresh strong coffee (I use decaf)
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract (I use half vanilla, half almond)
1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
1 cup chopped skin-on whole almonds (raw or toasted)
In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup soymilk with arrowroot. Set aside.
Mix soy creamer, remaining soymilk, coffee and sugar in a saucepan and cook over low heat. (This took me forever to heat up so I ratcheted it up to medium.) Once mixture begins to boil, remove from heat and add arrowroot cream. This will cause the liquid to thicken noticeably. Add vanilla extract.
Refrigerate mixture until chilled, approximately 2 to 3 hours. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. In the last two minutes, while the ice cream is still soft, stir in the chocolate and almonds.
Note: Since this product results in a firmer freeze, it is best to leave the ice cream on the counter for about a half an hour before serving.
Fruit Cobbler — Tried and True and Stunningly Simple
On weekly forays to the farmers’ market I often find myself lured by the bounty of locally grown produce and come home laden with baskets chock-a-block with far more than I can use up in a day or two. My winter-starved senses crave redemption from anemic supermarket fruit and I cave at the glorious sight of towering tables of berries, peaches, plums and nectarines bursting with vibrant color and flavor and the sweetly floral scent of just-picked fruit.
Lately I have turned my over-buying into a successful solution. At least once a week we are invited to a party or picnic where we are asked to bring a dish to aid our over-burdened hosts in filling out the menu for a large gathering. For years such an invitation has put me into a tailspin as I mentally review my hundreds of go-to recipes to arrive at the perfect offering.
Here are my typical requirements for a summer’s dish: not too fancy, not too complex and assuredly fail-proof. Won’t melt, easy to whip up with a minimum of on-hand ingredients, cooks up while taking shower, needs no additional on-site preparation, poses no challenge to most food allergies and is able to withstand brutal temperatures without poisoning the guests.
Notice to gracious hosts entertaining in July and August: You need not alphabetize me to determine sweet or savory. The following dish handed down by my husband’s mother, an 87-year veteran of every church, garden and civic club potluck dinner in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is what you can expect.
Grandma Fredia’s Fruit Cobbler
Adapted by Jordan Wright
1 cup self-rising flour (unsifted)
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
1 quart skin-on and sliced peaches (about 6 large), nectarines (about 8),
blueberries or blackberries or a combination of the above
1 stick of butter
Set oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together sugar and flour. Add buttermilk and vanilla to make a batter. Don’t overmix. Put stick of butter in glass or enamel casserole dish and place in oven until it begins to bubble, about 5 minutes, but keep checking till you get the hang of it. Do not leave the kitchen at this point, even to hunt for the sunscreen. Remove dish and place fruits evenly over the melted butter. Pour batter to cover all fruit. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes till nicely browned on top. Remove and set on rack to cool. Now would be the time to wrap the hostess gift.
Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, ice cream or crème fraiche.