The Taste of Summer

November 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Summer is my favorite season, no questions asked. I love the sunshine and heat and warm nights and cooling off in the pool or the ocean and especially, I love the fresh fruit. We live in a fabulous modern age of strawberries in February, but they are truly not the same as the strawberries of July, plucked fresh off the plant, nor are the peaches you buy in January anything like summer’s fresh peaches so ripe they practically burst when you bite into them, dripping sticky juice down your chin no matter how fast you eat. And fresh summer cherries, sweet and firm and plump, the perfect size to pop into your mouth – I can eat a pound at a time (and have, but I don’t recommend this…you’ll have a tummy ache). The downside is, I get so excited about all the fresh fruit that I end up buying more than I can possibly eat before it spoils.

So when I found myself with some peaches and cherries that were getting close to passing over from perfectly ripe to rotten mush, I decided something must be done. And then I decided that something was a cherry-peach cobbler. I used my go-to cobbler recipe, only instead of berries, I used the peaches (sliced to about 1/8”, not peeled) and cherries (halved and pitted). The result is a delicious summery cobbler, fantastic as a breakfast treat or as a dessert…especially delicious under a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Delish.

Shaking my tree

June 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was watching The Next Food Network Star (my third favorite cooking contest show — I much prefer Top Chef and Chopped, but they seem to be out of season right now) the other day, and one of the things they were asking each contestant was to describe their philosophy about food/cooking. So I thought about this for myself, and my philosophy about food/cooking (and about any kind of art, really) is this:

Learn the basics so you can make what you like.

That’s it. With all of the things I do, the ones I’m most successful with are food and fiber. And the reason I’m most successful with them is because I’ve learned the basics and learned them well, and knowing the basics means I can do some very unbasic things to get what I want. This is what has made me comfortable replacing ingredients in recipes (for instance, the black pepper/paprika switcheroo in my Lamb Ragout) and really what has given me the confidence to play around and come up with recipes all my own.

But, you ask,  how did you learn this stuff, oh Amazing One? I am so glad you asked. Because here’s the thing: when I say “learn” I don’t mean “follow the recipe a couple times”. I mean, read things in cookbooks, watch cooking programs, ask your friends questions about the delicious food they’ve prepared, think about how the chef made the food that’s on your plate in a restaurant. Always be thinking about what is happening, especially with things you have a strong like or dislike for. And then — and this is really the most important part — get your ass in the kitchen and start playing.

Some of the things you make will fail. If you’re really lucky, they’ll fail spectacularly and you’ll at least get a good story out of the deal but more often, they fail with a whimper and you have a dish that says “meh.” You can learn from those things. Think about what worked and what didn’t, and figure out how to fix the non-working things (ideally in such a way that they don’t break the working things). Then go and make the new version. Repeat, until you have what you wanted, or an entirely new and more awesome thing that has evolved along the way (for really fantastic examples of this in action, I cannot recommend Cook’s Illustrated magazine highly enough).

This is the way most of my recipes happen. I get an idea and I go through several iterations until I love it. Sometimes, though…ah, sometimes it’s as if I’m possessed by some sort of mad genius kitchen spirit and everything comes together beautifully and culminates in tastebud bliss. Such was the case with the peach galette I made over the weekend.

The story goes like this: I was at the store and saw some peaches. I grabbed them, and then as I was driving home I started thinking about making mini pies with them. Except I don’t really like fruit pie as a general rule (yeah, I know, I’m a weirdo). Maybe a cobbler? Not exciting me. Then I remembered that I’d been wanting to make a galette. Perfect! Not quite a pie, but yummy crust, so how can that be bad? (A galette, for those of you who don’t know, is a very rustic version of a pie/tart, wherein you roll out a single crust onto a flat baking sheet, put your filling on, then fold the edges up to hold it all in. I call it a “too lazy to take the pie plate out pie”.)

I started out with my regular crust, then decided I wanted it to be a sweet crust, so I threw in 1/4 cup of brown sugar. The peaches were clings (as opposed to freestones…as much as I think clings are a pain to cut they invariably have a much stronger flavor), so I cut them in 1/4″ slices while still on the stone, then popped the slices off. The peel was thin (and I’ve never been able to successfully blanch peaches for peeling) so I left it on.

Oh, and I learned a new fancy trick for rolling out crust: put it between two sheets of parchment!

No more cleaning hunks of dough off my precious marble rolling pin!

I didn’t put any flour on the paper, but I think next time I’d do a dusting as it was a little clingy. The final little spark of genius was the rum-honey glaze that goes on at the end. I was sitting on the couch, smelling the baking smell and slavering impatiently when I suddenly realized that a little glaze would bring it from yummy to exquisite. And indeed, the flavor profile was delicate but still complex. It tastes just like you’d expect early summer to taste.

Recipe

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 1 lb peaches (about 4, give or take)
  • 1/4 c. sugar

For the crust:

  • 1/2 c. butter, cold
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/8 c. brown sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons ice water

For the glaze:

  • 1 Tbsp. dark rum
  • 2 Tbsp. honey

Crust:

In a food processor, pulse together the flour and butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add in sugar and pulse once more. Begin adding water 1 Tbsp at a time until 3 Tbsp have been added, pulsing as you go. Now add the water about 1 tsp at a time, stopping when the mixture just comes together. Turn out onto plastic wrap and form into a disc. Chill to firm, about 15 minutes.

Filling:

While the crust is chilling, preheat the oven to 425°. Slice peaches into app. 1/4″ thick slices.  Roll crust out to 11-12″ diameter and put on cookie sheet. Place peach slices in concentric circles on crust, mounding higher closer to the center. When all slices are placed, fold the edges of the crust in towards the center. Sprinkle sugar evenly over filling. Place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until crust is browned.

Glaze:

When about 5 minutes are left for the galette to bake, combine rum and honey in a small microwaveable dish. Heat together for 20-30 seconds (long enough to fully liquefy honey). Stir gently. When you remove the galette from the oven, use a pastry brush to apply glaze generously to peach slices, making sure there’s plenty to drip down between them. You may wish to apply several coats.

Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes, then slice and serve.

Stepping outside

May 5, 2012 § Leave a comment


There are a lot of things that I’m moderately good at, and even a few things that I’m really, really good at. But there are also things I’m horrible at. One of those things is self-promotion. It makes me really, painfully uncomfortable to talk about myself and my accomplishments. And there’s this one really awesome thing that happened that I should tell you about, because this is, after all, ostensibly where I am to feature my professional design work. So here goes:

Last year, I decided to really buckle down and get this whole “pattern design” thing going. I’m comfortable with self-publication, but since I’m not great at self-promotion, my patterns tend to just sit there. I do actually know all of the things I should be doing differently…I just have a really hard time implementing them. So I decided to take a different tack, one I’d avoided before because of the fear of rejection. Turns out my fear of rejection is not as strong as my aversion to saying nice things about myself (yes, you read that correctly: I would actually rather hear other people say not-nice things about my work than to say nice things about it myself. I gots me some Issues™.). I started reading calls for submissions on Ravelry, did some sketching and swatching, and submitted a little bolero to Knitscene.

This little bolero, in fact. Which you can find in the Summer 2012 issue of Knitscene, available on newstands and in your local yarn store now, or directly from them here. (The protoype is pictured above in a black sparkly cotton that’s just gorgeous in person. ETA: It’s 2nd Time Cotton by K1C2)

Leaf lace detail — I think my favorite thing about this sweater is the way the insets create lovely big scallops along the neckline.

Since then I’ve been sending out submissions pretty regularly, and have had a couple of others picked up (which is why there’s been a dearth of content here lately — I’ve been spending every spare moment knitting my widdle pingers to the bone), so those will be out soon-ish. And I will be sure to tell you all about them when they’re available. Because you know what? I’m really proud of them, and me, and I think you’re going to like them.

Perfect Brownies, I Can Makes Them

July 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

All thanks to Cook’s Illustrated, who I absolutely adore. It is by far my favorite cooking magazine and reference, because they not only give you the recipe and a maybe a little story to go along with it, but they tell you why and how it works. Not only that, they describe the process they used to get to the final recipe, including all the different ways they went wrong. I love that. I try to do it myself for, presumably, they same reason they do: partly so if you want to make a change to the recipe you’ll already know exactly what happens when you do certain things and you don’t have to repeat my mistakes, but also so if one of those “mistakes” happens to be the result you want, now you know how to do that, too. And not only that, sometimes those bits of information can be applied to other recipes and experimentations, once again demonstrating that all knowledge is worth having. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you get yourself access to CI, either digitally or on paper.

Yes, they are as good as they look. Possibly better.

So. Brownies. I looooooove chewy fudgy brownies. I hate double boilers. These two things have kept me from making brownies from scratch, well, forever. Because most decent brownie recipes make you melt your chocolate down in a double boiler, and then they result  in cakey brownies. If that’s your thing, go with god and Baker’s box recipe and party on. If, like me, you prefer the chewy, fudgy variety brownie that is usually produced only from a red box filled with powder (I always liked Betty Crocker Fudge Brownies, myself), read on.

See, it turns out that the secret to fudgy brownies is not just the right proportion of fats, liquids, and solids but the right types of fats in the right percentages. Brilliant! And best of all (for me anyhow, with my hatred of the double boiler), you do all of your melting in boiling water that’s part of the recipe!

I adapted this recipe very slightly from the published one, and I’ve included the brand names of the chocolates I use –they are not the same as the ones used by CI — because I happen to really like the way this combination turns out. You might like a different combo. Experiment until you find the right combo for you. I tried Ghiradelli unsweetened bars the first time and they have a serious citrus overtone that is, while sorta yummy, not what I’m looking for in a brownie. No matter what combo you choose, these brownies will be chewy, deeply fudgy, and have a lovely crisp top.

Recipe

(Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, March & April 2010)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3c. Ghiradelli unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2c. plus 2Tbsp boiling water
  • 2oz. Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2c. plus 2Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2c. sugar
  • 1 3/4c. all purpose flour
  • 3/4tsp salt
  • 6oz. dark chocolate chips (those melty ones you get in bulk to make fondue with at the grocery store — I found them in the bakery section — see picture, below)

Preheat oven to 350°. Line 13×9 pan with foil; spray lightly with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk cocoa and boiling water together until smooth. Add in unsweetened chocolate and continue to whisk until chocolate is melted. Whisk in melted butter and oil. (CI notes at this point that the mixture may look curdled; I have not had this issue.) Whisk in eggs, yolks, and vanilla. Whisk in sugar. Stir in flour and salt (CI indicates a rubber spatula for this part; I use a wooden spoon and it seems to work fine) until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Fold in chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350° 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out clean (or with a few moist crumbs). Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan on a rack for 1 1/2hrs. Using foil, remove brownies from pan and place on rack to cool another hour before serving.*

*Okay look, this is 2 1/2 hours of cooling time. I don’t know about you, but there is no chance in hell that fresh brownies are going to get that much alone time at my house. I usually make it about 45 minutes before I start cutting.

These are the chippy things I'm talking about -- they're like little discs.

Summertime, and the Lemonade’s Easy

July 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

As a child of the 80s, I’ve always been about convenience and speed. Powdered drink mixes always seemed like the easiest way to get a nice refreshing pitcher of lemonade, and it tasted okay. When my kids got old enough to start eating and drinking real food, I started looking at the ingredients in foods and resolved to make from scratch as much as possible. Sometimes this is an utter failure. For instance, one of the few things The Girl will eat are chicken fingers. She will not eat any other form of chicken, even if I’ve made it look just like the prepackaged chicken fingers. I heartily wish that she had never been introduced to the pre-made crap, but it happened and I’m sure eventually we’ll get her to start eating something else. Maybe when she goes to college.

Lemonade and brownies...the perfect summer afternoon treat

But I digress. I started looking for a lemonade recipe last year — I figured it would be a pain, but worth it to keep the chemicals going into the kids down to a minimum. I was surprised — and a little annoyed at myself for not figuring it out earlier — to find out how incredibly easy it is…almost as easy as fixing one of the powdered mixes. It’s so easy, in fact, that I almost feel silly writing up the recipe.

 

 

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1c. boiling water
  • 1c. sugar
  • 1c. lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best, but you can use bottled, too)
  • 2c. ice
  • 1qt. cold water

Combine boiling water and sugar. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved (the water will become clear again — yay! You’ve just made simple syrup!). Add lemon juice. Put ice in pitcher. Add half the cold water, then pour in lemon juice mixture. Top off with remaining cold water. Stir.

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