A sweet-spicy flourish for a birthday dessert

Entertaining

Cherries poached in wine and served on ice cream

Sunday Gourmet

July 18, 2004|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

I love birthday celebrations, so when I realized that one of my talented culinary assistants was turning 49 (and worried about approaching the big Five-0), I suggested to another of her friends that we plan a surprise summer luncheon in her honor at my house. Because her birthday fell during the week when most of us were working, we knew we needed to create a menu that was short and sweet.

We began with a chilled soup, which we followed with a substantial salad of mixed greens garnished with asparagus, hard-cooked eggs and sauteed prosciutto slices, all tossed in a mustard vinaigrette. In place of a cake, we prepared compotes of cherries poached in red wine and spices, then topped them with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

The soup was made the day before to ensure that it would be icy cold. The cherries were likewise easy to poach a day in advance. At noontime, all that was necessary was to assemble the salad ingredients, which were already prepped.

Our honoree was taken completely by surprise. She arrived ready to put on an apron and test recipes in my kitchen but instead was led to a porch where a table was set with garden flowers and champagne. For an hour, our small group laughed, ate, toasted and forgot about the world's problems. This menu was one of the most stress-free I can remember serving.

Although each course was a winner, the cherries seemed to be everyone's favorite. The dark, luscious berries, served warm in martini or wide-mouthed wine glasses, contrast beautifully with the snowy white scoops of ice cream, making a duo that is a memorable ending to any warm-weather gathering.

Cherries Poached in Red Wine and Spices With Vanilla Ice Cream

Serves 6

6 cups dry red wine

2 1/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon powdered cardamom

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

1/2 cup orange juice

two 3-inch cinnamon sticks plus 6 extra sticks for garnish, optional

2 pounds sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted 1 quart vanilla ice cream

6 mint sprigs

Place red wine, sugar, cardamom, orange zest and juice in a 5- to 6-quart non-reactive pot over medium heat. Break two cinnamon sticks in half and add to pot. Stir well to mix sugar with liquids and bring mixture to a simmer. Add cherries and cook until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes. (The wine mixture may not return to a simmer before the cherries become tender.) Remove cherries with a slotted spoon to a shallow bowl or dish.

Return pan in which cherries were cooked to medium high heat and cook until mixture reduces to about 3 cups and is slightly syrupy, about 30 minutes. If using sauce immediately, remove from heat and cool 5 minutes, then return cherries to pan. (If preparing sauce ahead, cool to room temperature, then add cherries. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Reheat over medium heat, stirring gently, until cherries are heated through and sauce is warm but not simmering.)

To serve, ladle cherries and some sauce into 6 wide-mouthed wine or martini glasses. Garnish each serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a mint sprig. If desired, add a cinnamon stick. Serve immediately.

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