Years ago, I heard a sports writer complain about how he used to love sports — until he started writing about it.
Once it became a job, he all but stopped watching games on weekends. The thing that he adored had morphed into stress-inducer.
I remember feeling aghast — you get paid to write about something you love. Isn’t that more than many people dream of?
Recently, however, I’ve started to understand. After spending weeks with my nose buried deep in my book manuscript — which is all about a journey home to my native Singapore told through food and cooking — my time in the kitchen has become, simply, work. Meals have been thrown together out of sheer necessity; easy old faithfuls rather than new creative dishes have been making far too many appearances on the dinner table.
The stress of writing and editing my hundreds of pages on food, sadly, had transformed my love for cooking into a source of anxiety.
But I only realized I’d forgotten how to enjoy the act of making food when my Let’s Lunch friends nudged me back into the kitchen — not to put a meal on the table but to whip up something silly and anything but practical: A decadent chilled dessert.
Each month, we gather online for a virtual lunchdate. Burgers, chilled soups, kitchen-sink creations … we’ve covered a lot of ground since a transcontinental craving for a BLT one lazy Sunday kicked off the first lunch in July. (Happy first anniversary, everyone!)
What to do for our anniversary? Something frothy seemed appropriate.
When I think of chilled desserts, the cold sweet soups filled with chunks of melon, plump bits of chewy sago or sweet cubes of yam I grew up with immediately come to mind. And let’s not forget ice-kachang, the mountain of shaved ice doused with brightly colored syrup for which I squirreled away my weekly allowance.
All of this, however, seemed a little ambitious (especially with my book copy-editing deadline looming). And so I dusted off a book I’ve been meaning to cook from: “The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts” by New York dessert chef Pichet Ong. Pichet, who has cooked with top chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and now runs two dessert restaurants (Spot and Village Tart) in Manhattan, spent some time in Singapore and often draws on Southeast Asian flavors in his dishes.
Flipping through his book, one recipe caught my eye: Lemongrass frozen yogurt.
I’d never made frozen yogurt before but this looked rather easy. In fact, when I emailed Pichet to ask if there was anything I should know about this recipe before trying it, he had just one thing to say. On the lemongrass: Make sure to “chop or bruise it really aggressively.”
You don’t need to tell me twice to be aggressive.
After taking a wooden mallet and bashing two stalks of lemongrass so hard that an alarmed husband was roused from the couch and came running into the kitchen to see if anyone was hurt, I figured I’d heeded Pichet’s advice enough.
Next, I chopped the stalks as finely as I could, blended that with some whole milk, sugar and salt and then transferred that mixture to a saucepan to boil for a bit.
After a slight simmer, the mixture was set aside to cool as I took four large egg yolks …
… whisked them together, adding some of the slightly cooled milk mixture to the yolks in the process, and then dumping that all back into the saucepan for more boiling.
After about five minutes, after the mixture had thickened slightly, I strained the liquid, making sure to press on the lemongrass bits to squeeze out every last drop, as Pichet advises in the book.
And there it was — an incredibly fragrant, milky liquid whose scent conjured up thoughts of palm trees and breezy tropical beaches all at once.
After the liquid cooled, in went a smidgen of lemon juice and gobs of plain yogurt and the refrigerating began. Once the mixture went down to about 40 degrees in temperature, I ran it through an ice-cream maker for 30 minutes of churning and the yogurt was done.
The end product was delicious — fresh, grassy and sweet but not cloying. It felt anything but heavy, making it a perfect summer dessert. (Well, except that one really has to exercise self-control around this frozen yogurt–it’s seriously addictive.)
As Mike and I licked our spoons, slowing down to savor each moment as our yogurt disappeared, we couldn’t help but smile. After weeks of sturdy casseroles and pragmatic stir-fries, this lemongrass yogurt was a true bit of bliss.
But as much as I enjoyed eating it — I realized that I’d enjoyed making it even more.
If you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter
and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment
And don’t forget to see other Let’s Lunchers’ cool desserts
Cathy‘s Duo of Melon Fresca with Blackberry Granita at Showfood Chef
Danielle’s Summer Berry Granita and Roasted White Peaches at Bon Vivant
Ellise‘s Watermelon Granita at Cowgirl Chef
Karen‘s Black Sesame Ice-Cream at Geofooding
Linda‘s Chocolate Banana Ice-Cream — Made in a Dryer! At Free Range Cookies
Steff‘s Fudgie No-Bake Cookies at The Kitchen Trials