The nice folks at Martha Stewart Living Radio have invited me to be on the "Living Today" show, so when I saw Martha Stewart's Quick Cook at a barn sale to benefit our local library last weekend, I had to buy it.
Call it research, though the truth is that I am genetically incapable of passing up a cookbook at a barn sale. (Yes, if you must know, I bought more than one cookbook. Maybe three. Or four. And a book on origami. And an adventure board game for ages 8 and up. And some ninja turtle action figures.)
The book cover features a photo of Martha circa 1983, all pink and pearls and bows, and inside, photography that wouldn't make the cut in today's world of Photoshop and food porn. But as I leafed through, I found myself marking many recipes that really did sound quick-to-cook and drew heavily on a well-stocked pantry augmented by seasonally fresh ingredients.
Her sorbet recipe, a true pantry special (I'm sure Martha has the most perfect pantry), takes just five minutes of work and calls for instant espresso, which I always have in the cupboard. I don't use it to make drinks; I use it for making desserts, because coffee coaxes the best flavor from chocolate in dishes like truffles, triple-chocolate cookies, chocolate-espresso cake, cupcakes and little mousse cups.
As I wrote in an earlier post, instant coffee is a relatively new invention, created in 1901 by a Chicago chemist. His invention languished for more than three decades until Nescafé, a collaboration between the Brazilian government and Swiss conglomerate Nestlé, was formed in 1938 to market a dehydrated coffee that would have a longer shelf life and could be reconstituted with water. However, with the outbreak of World War II, Nescafé didn't find a market in Europe, so it was exported to the US, where the government put it in soldiers' meal rations. That's how America became hooked on pretty bad instant coffee, which later became the norm in 1950s households like the one in which I grew up.
These days, you can find good quality instant espresso, in granulations from powdery fine to coarse, in almost every supermarket. With a forever shelf life, it keeps well in the cupboard or in the freezer.
You can substitute dark coffee for instant espresso in most recipes. Use the darkest coffee you have on hand; double the amount of coffee, but don't double the water.
Fast food, made from a well-chosen pantry and seasonal produce -- Martha was 25 years ahead of the rest of us.
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Quick Cook, this simple recipe needs a few hours' head start, and an ice cream machine (I have the kind with a canister that you freeze ahead of time). If you're feeling incredibly indulgent, serve a scoop of this sorbet on top of a chocolate brownie, or make it elegant in a puff pastry cup. Makes 1 quart.
1/2 cup espresso beans, finely ground, or instant espresso
2-3/4 cups water
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
Make espresso coffee with the ground beans or instant espresso and 2 cups water. Add the vanilla bean, and chill in the refrigerator.
Combine 3/4 cup water with the sugar in a straight-sided saucepan. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, swirl to make sure the sugar is dissolved, and combine with the coffee. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
Discard the vanilla bean, and freeze the espresso mixture in an ice cream machine, according to manufacturer's directions.
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