Peachy

 

peachy pie 2

 

It’s been a crazy few weeks around here.  Bryan has been finishing up a HUGE project for an art exhibition opening shortly—huge in physical scale, and in time invested, etc.  It took over his life, and then started to encroach on mine too.  Many things I’d been planning to work on got put to the back burner, until finally near the install date I was doing nothing besides helping get ready, unless the other thing had an already-agreed-upon-in-writing due date, and even then not too much was happening.

I’ve been cooking a lot though.  It’s the kind of situation where logically it would make sense to just make a big pot of soup and eat it for the whole week.  But, it’s my absolute favorite time of year for eating.  All the ingredients for ratatouille are sitting there, fresh and glowing, at the growers’ market, and it would be make me feel much more deprived not to cook them and eat them.  And it turns out, not surprisingly, when I’m not spending my creative energy on other projects, I end up experimenting more with food and making up recipes.  And, when Bryan is burning lots of extra calories working on huge sculptures all day, he’s more excited about having dessert, and any time I’m stressed I definitely want dessert.  Any two weeks in which we ate two of these pies can’t be that bad.

Although things evolve and change, and I’ve been excited to have so much fiber stuff to share lately, I wouldn’t want recipes to disappear entirely from this space, so here you go.  I’ll be back soon with a little more about the sculpture project & the exhibition (which is really pretty cool) and maybe even one more recipe.  But for now:

 

Weekday Peach Pie with Nut Crust

(adapted from various bits of the Joy of Cooking)

This isn’t a humongous Southern-Sunday-dinner peach pie, but instead one you can make if you just grab a few extra peaches at the market.  Pecans are my favorite for this crust, which is the same one I use for pumpkin pie in the fall, and just happens to be gluten free.  You can use other nuts that grow near you and/or you like, and it should work fine.

Preheat the oven to 375° F

Peach filling—put all this in a bowl:

1 1/2 lbs peaches (weighed whole), cut into 1/4″ thick slices.  (Freestone peaches are much easier to slice.)

1/4 cup sugar if your peaches are ripe and juicy, maybe a tablespoon or two more if they are firm and tart.

1 1/2 Tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch for thickening.  I ground the tapioca in a spice grinder to get finer grains, which I think I read about in an Alice Waters cookbook.

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice.

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional but I like it).

A small pinch of salt.

Stir up the filling and let it sit while you make the crust:

You can either put all these ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse together, or grind the nuts first and then mix everything by hand.  Either way, don’t chop the nuts super fine, or the crust won’t have a lot of structure, a texture like coarse crumbs is good.

2 cups pecans (or walnuts, almonds etc.) chopped, see note above.

4 Tablespoons butter (especially if you’re making it in the food processor, it’s important to soften the butter first, otherwise you’ll end up with chunks of unmixed butter).

3 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Butter a pie pan well, and pour in the mixed crust in it.  Use your fingers to press the crust over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, getting it reasonably even if you can.

Prebake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until it starts to brown.  The edges of this crust are apt to burn, so cover them with a pie shield or strips of aluminum foil first.  If the sides of the crust start to sag or the bottom gets too puffy, you can push them back in place with the back of a spoon.

While the crust bakes, beat 1 egg (the smallest egg you can find) with just a tiny bit of water, until well beaten.

When the crust is warm and starting to brown, take it out of the oven and glaze it with the beaten egg. This is the key to putting a moist filling in the nut crust without getting a soggy crust!  Use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of egg wash all over the inside surface of the crust, up over the sides, etc.  The egg will want to slide down, but just keep brushing it up, until the warm crust starts to absorb it and hold it in place.

 

peachy pie 3

 

Put the egg-washed crust back in the oven for just a couple of minutes, until the egg is cooked and shiny.

Then pour in the peach filling.  Cover the edges of the crust again, and put the whole pie back into the oven until the juices of the filling are thick and bubbly, about 45 minutes.  No matter what you do, the edges of the crust will probably get a “bold” baked color (as the bread makers say). If it goes all the way to burnt, just scrape off the very top.  This crust is really simple and delicious, so it’s totally worth it.

Here’s to a weekday-peach-pie kind of week …

 

peachy pie 1

 

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Celery Root and Apple Soup

 

celery root soup

 

Celery root is one of those vegetables that just looks intimidating.  Covered in dirt, all-over-knobbly, seems like it’s been underground for about a hundred years … but underneath all that, it’s surprisingly easy to slice and really delicious, with a subtle nutty flavor.  I discovered it last winter, when I started making this soup, and a lentil and celery root dish from Plenty * that’s really good (also how I discovered that “celeriac” is British English for “celery root” and therefore I could get what Ottolenghi describes as “probably my favorite root” in my own home town!)

This is originally a Deborah Madison recipe, and I love how thoughtful she is about both using up all the veggies, and using your time wisely.  The root trimmings go into a stock, which cooks as you get everything else ready.  This time of year, I’m waiting for spring, and ready to eat something new (or at least new-to-me).  Want to come on a new vegetable adventure?

 

Celery Root and Apple Soup

Adapted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen

Get out your vegetable brush, and go to town on:

1 1/2 pounds celery root

Thickly peel it, with a knife.  You’ll be able to see the boundary between the outer and inner layers.  Throw any pieces that are too deeply rutted or full of tiny roots to be clean into the compost.  Put the clean peelings into a stock pot (use a smaller pot here if you can, you’ll need a bigger one to start the soup in) along with:

1 cup chopped leek greens OR a few slices of onion

1 chopped carrot

1 chopped celery stalk

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs of fresh parsley (if you have it)

Pinch of fresh thyme

Pinch of salt

Cover all this with 6 cups of water, bring it to a boil, and then let simmer for 25 minutes.

 

celery root chopping

 

Meanwhile,chop:

The peeled celery root

1 onion OR 2 fat leeks

1 cup celery

1 apple, thinly sliced.  I like to use a Pink Lady, either a small one or half a large.  I really like the flavor, but too much can make the soup a little too sweet.  Or you can follow the original directions and use a more tart apple.

1/2 cup potato

Melt in the big soup pot:

2 Tablespoons butter

Add all the soup vegetables, plus another pinch of salt.  Cook over medium for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add:

1/2 cup water

Cook on low until the stock is done.  Pour the stock through a strainer into the soup, and simmer for about 20 more minutes, until the vegetables are soft.  Let cool and then puree the soup to the texture you like.

A splash of cream is good in the soup when it’s done.

Reheat gently, taste for seasoning, and serve with:

Very thinly sliced celery heart

Very thinly sliced apple, and

A little crumbled blue cheese on top.

Don’t skip the toppings, they really make this soup special.

* You can also read this recipe on his website.  The main variation I like is to saute the chopped celery root in some butter/olive oil instead of boiling it.  It comes out golden and tender and super yummy.

What about you, tried any new vegetables lately? Have any favorite late-winter recipes? (If you’re reading from the Southern Hemisphere right now, I’m jealous …)

 

Asparagus Tarts for Spring and Early Summer

 

asparagus tart

 

Posting this recipe feels kind of, sort of, almost like cheating. It’s a variation on the savory tart/quiche recipe I’ve been using all the time since this past fall. With the late spring in the Midwest this year, there’s still a lot of asparagus around, and I’d have a hard time thinking of anything easier and more satisfying to do with it than this. I made the tart shown here with about a pound of asparagus, and some fresh thyme. A week or so later, I made another one for a new friend who’s eating gluten free, without the crust, with slightly less asparagus, and adding some leftover potatoes and onions. This really is one of those recipes (my favorite kind) that encourage experimentation and new flavor combinations.

 

Asparagus Tart Variations

 

Refer to the original recipe for the cornmeal crust, if making a crust, and more filling ideas.

For the asparagus, either broil it lightly first for more smoky flavor, or simply wash, and chop it into approximately equal diagonal segments, discarding any tough or dried out ends.

Optional: prepare potatoes as for the potato and green chile tart, or use any other leftover cooked potatoes you happen to have around.

 

For the Filling:

4 eggs

A generous splash heavy cream or milk

A few Tablespoons grated cheese (I like a hard cheese such as Parmesan)

Fresh ground pepper

(Salt is optional, depending on your taste, and saltiness of cheese)

Fresh thyme or other fresh herbs to taste (Tip: if the stems are sturdy enough, you can get most of the thyme leaves off by grabbing the stem near the top and running the fingers of the other hand down the stem from top to bottom.)

Feel free to add an extra egg, and a little more of the other ingredients, if it seems like there’s not enough filling for the veggies you have.

If not using a crust, make sure to grease your pan thoroughly.

Mix the cut asparagus (and potatoes) in with the filling, and pour into the pan/crust. For the second variation, I sprinkled the top with minced garlic and more Parmesan, which puffed and browned as the tart cooked for a tasty crispy top.

Bake at 375° F for about 40 minutes, turning once, until the tart is golden on top, puffed up, and just moist inside when tested with a knife.

 

Spring Strawberry Salad

With maple candied walnuts and creamy goat cheese balsamic dressing.

 

spring strawberry salad 1

 

For some reason, this spring I’ve been craving the fresh new foods that come with the changing season, much more than I normally do.  The strawberries in my yard are nowhere near making fruit yet, but a few weeks ago, the strawberries in the market were suddenly glorious.  A strawberry out of season tastes Ok, but when they’re actually ready, ripe and fully red, full of sweet juice that seems composed of the very flavor of renewal and new growth, they are magical things to eat.  I was immediately obsessed.  Another good thing about food in season is that it’s bountiful, and therefore on sale, and I pretty much stuffed as many fresh ripe organic strawberries into my gullet as possible.  I also came up with this recipe, the first one in a while that I’ve invented without looking anything up or searching for ideas.  So:

 

For the salad:

Lightly shred about a handful of lettuce (I like red leaf or butter lettuce) per person.

Add 1 small or 1/2 large grated carrot per person.

Add grated radish, about half as much as the carrot.

Add sliced strawberries, as many as you like, I suggest a lot.

 

spring strawberry salad 2For the dressing:

Put about 4 Tablespoons of plain fresh goat cheese in a jar.

Add heavy cream up to about the top of the cheese.

Add 1 Tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar.

Add a pinch of salt, and stir together (a small whisk is great for this).

Add a little water, stir, and add a little more, until the dressing reaches the consistency you’d like.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

This makes a fair amount of dressing, enough for about 6 people to have salad, and maybe find some other things to spread it on.

 

For the walnuts:

Lightly crush 1 cup of walnuts (I just do this with my hands).

In a skillet, melt about 1 Tablespoon butter over medium heat.

Add two teaspoons of maple syrup, one teaspoon of brown sugar, and a large pinch of salt.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then add the walnuts.  Stir until most of the coating is on the nuts rather than the skillet.  Let cool.

If you run out of time, this is also good with un-candied walnuts or pecans, although these lightly candied ones add a really nice touch.

 

Sprinkle the nuts on top of the salad, and let each person add the creamy dressing as it’s served.

 

spring strawberry salad 3

 

Now, if only I can find some fresh peas …

 

Recipe Sketch: About a Million Ways to Make Orange Marmalade

 

thick marmalade chopping

 

Remember when I posted about how to make French toast, and the “failed” orange sauce I had tried making to go with it?  Well, it wasn’t that bad in the end.   In fact, at least a few of my friends really liked it.  Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about different approaches to marmalade, and how that sauce, which seemed like it was going to be a total waste of time and effort, did actually come together, and with a little more time and effort, become something good.  Here I send out a silent (yet public—interesting) prayer to the universe that I will one day say the same about all the things which that sauce represented to me on the first of this year.

 

Anyway, orange marmalade:

It’s really just a combination of orange peels, juice, and sugar (and usually pectin to thicken it for canning).  My New Year’s orange spread had all of the pith inside the peel, and all of the membrane around the orange slices, still in it too.  I just washed & sliced the oranges (discarding the ends), pulled out the center strings of pithy stuff, chopped the slices to get out the seeds, and put them in the food processor.   I added the juice of a couple more oranges, and some sugar to the pot, and started boiling it on the stove.  For a while, it seemed like a kind of bitter, barely cooked orange goo … and eventually I realized that I was going to have to add a lot more liquid, and a lot more cooking time, and some more sugar.  All the pithy parts of the orange needed to absorb a LOT of liquid in order to cook down, more than I wanted to juice oranges for, so I started adding water.  After that, all it needed was time—a couple of hours of simmering on the stove.  Check on it periodically, adding more water and sugar to taste as necessary, until all the parts of the orange are tender enough to eat on toast, and the sauce tastes as sweet as you want.  The result has a full, whole-orange flavor—some of the bitterness remains, but you get lots of other flavor elements as well.  At the time, I didn’t feel like taking a picture of the finished whole-orange sauce, but it comes out mostly opaque and pale orange, with darker bits of peel mixed in.

I’ve made a quick kumquat marmalade using a similar method.  Kumquats have a lot of seeds, so be sure to chop them in quarters and check each one for seeds before putting them in the food processor.  They don’t have very much pith or membrane at all though, so you can cook them fairly quickly into some tasty preserves.  Just add juice and sugar and boil them on the stove until you get the consistency you want.

On the other end of the cooked-orange-peel-and-juice spectrum from the whole orange spread is a quick thin sauce we made quite a lot a couple of years ago, because it’s awesome on crêpe.  It’s mostly orange juice, with just the thin outer peel grated into it.  Save a little fresh juice, and put the rest in a small saucepan with the peel.  Add sugar to taste as you go, and boil until it thickens somewhat.  Add the reserved juice back in when the sauce is done, it brings the brightness of fresh orange to blend with the more mellow cooked flavors.

 

thin marmalade finished

 

And of course, you could use other citrus.  You could blend them.  You could add honey, or a different juice, or another sweetener you like.  You could cook it thick or thin, add pectin, can it, freeze it … At first I was going to wait to post this until I had tried a few more variations, maybe one somewhere in between these in terms of how much pith is in it.  But the more I thought about it, the more ideas for different marmalade I thought of, and it seemed pretty silly not to just put this idea out there and let you all do whatever you want with it.  It might be a fun way to wait for spring.

 

Simple & Satisfying Broccoli Pasta

With Garlic and Chile Flakes

 

simple broccoli pasta

 

Basically, I’m still in the same food mode I was when I wrote about the savory tarts (and still making a lot of them!).  Some days I feel like experimenting, and I have been working on a few new recipes, and trying a few others.  But many days, I’m in the mood to make something that won’t take forever, and that I know I’ll like.  Like this!  Broccoli appeared in our CSA store a couple of weeks ago, and I know Bryan likes it, so I always get some when it’s there.  This is one of my favorite ways to eat it.  Add a salad, and you have dinner.  It’s quick enough that I will even bother making it for lunch, if there aren’t enough leftovers in the fridge.

 

Simple Broccoli Pasta with Garlic and Chile Flakes

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

 

For dinner-size portions for two, start with two small or one large head of broccoli.  My second favorite thing about this recipe is that when I found it, I learned how to cook and eat the broccoli stems—it always seemed like a waste to just compost them.  The stems just take a bit longer to cook than the florets.  Cut off the florets, and cut them into about equal pieces.  Slice the stem into fairly thin rounds (leave out any of the bottom that seems too tough or stringy), and then dice up the slices.

 

chopped broccoli

 

Boil some water, to cook the pasta.  I like the deep nutty flavors of whole wheat or spelt noodles here, but then I like them with just about anything.  Use whatever kind of noodles you like.  For any even simpler gluten-free option, leave out the noodles all together, and serve the broccoli as a side.  The broccoli only takes a few minutes to cook, so you may want to cook the noodles first.  While you’re waiting you can mince a little garlic (I use about 1 small clove per head of broccoli) and grate some Parmesan, or other hard aged cheese of your choice.

To cook the broccoli, you will need a pan with a lid.  I keep a terrible, ancient skillet around because it’s the same size as my favorite one, and therefore functions as a convenient lid.  Add a generous amount of olive oil to the pan, and heat over medium.  When the oil is hot, add the chopped bits of broccoli stem, and sauté for a few minutes.  Then add the florets.  Stir, so that they all get a bit of oil, then pour in a splash of white wine if you have it, or water if you don’t, and cover the pan.

After a couple of minutes, lift off the lid.  The broccoli will have turned bright green.  At this point you want it to be slightly less done than your desired finished dish, taste some and see.  I like it about as far towards raw as I can get and still call it cooked.  When the broccoli is almost as done as you’d like, add the minced garlic and hot chile flakes to taste.  It can be subtle or spicy.

Let the garlic and chile cook for a minute or so, stirring with the broccoli.  The pan lid should be off at this point, to let any remaining liquid evaporate.  Turn of the heat, and add the cooked drained noodles to the pan, along with a little of the grated cheese.  Stir everything together, and add a bit more olive oil and/or cheese if it seems too dry.

That’s it!  Serve with a bit more grated cheese on top.

 

How to Make French Toast—and Happy New Year

With variations, tips and tricks to customize your own perfect French toast recipe.

 

french toast in skillet

 

It took me long enough, right?  (Can you believe it’s been almost two years?  Yeah, me neither.)  For a blog with this name, which features recipes, the lack of actual directions for making French toast was getting a little ridiculous.  Here’s the thing, I didn’t want to post just a recipe for French toast, that seemed silly, everyone already knows how to make French toast, right?  Instead I would put together some marvelous, unheard-of combination of toppings and put that in a post, with the actual French toast just included almost as a by-the-way, here’s how I make it.

I started off yesterday morning with just such a plan, to make a seasonal orange-based sauce.  I wasn’t going to tell you this next part, but it now seems important: it did not go well.  In fact, it reminded me specifically of the part of the year just passed that I would very much NOT like to repeat in the year to come: me trying very hard for a goal which I (perhaps) have somehow misjudged in one or more ways, expending a lot of time and energy but not quite getting where I’d like to go.

I like to think I’m not superstitious, but at first, this seemed like the most inauspicious possible sign for January 1.  Then, as it rolled around in my brain a little more, I started to think that maybe the failed orange sauce (it came out ok after all) was a cautionary tale, and if I took it the right way, I could use it to steer away from the process I don’t want, and towards the one I do.

 

french toast on plate

 

I started thinking; maybe just French toast is enough.  Of course not everyone already knows how to make it.  Especially since I have some tips and ideas to get you started with your own never-before-seen, awesome variations.  After all, this space is supposed to be about empowering you to make things, and not about me showing off, even though I love sharing the things I make here.

In 2014, I’d like to be more grounded, less hectic.  I still have a million dreams of every kind, so many things that I’d love to do.  But my journey towards them might not be about reaching as far as I possibly can in one grasp, or frantically trying to fit as much as I possibly can into every single day.  Maybe it will be more about doing one little bit at a time, and even about recognizing and sharing the good bits I already have right in front of me.

Happy New Year, friends!  May it be a good one for all.

 

How to Make French Toast

 

First, and most importantly, you need bread.  You can use any kind, and it’s not just a metaphor, or part of the 6 words I chose to describe my life, it really is the best possible use for bread that’s staler than you’d like to eat it.  Brioche, or banana bread, or any other thing that’s called a “bread” and maybe borders on dessert, will make amazing, Ann-Sather-worthy French toast.  I’ve used my homemade bread for our most recent versions.  As always, a quality bread (or any ingredient) will lend even more layers of subtle delicious flavor to the toast (or any finished dish), but it also may be a tastier use for a less-than-stellar bread than eating it alone.  How much batter the bread will soak up varies wildly depending on the type of bread and how dry it is, etc.

Next, you need some egg and stuff to soak the toast in.  I like it to be mainly egg, because I do not like the inside of the bread to be soggy when it’s done.  I like to whisk up the egg etc. in a glass dish with a flat bottom rather than in a bowl, so I can put a few pieces of bread in to soak at a time, and not be left with a little well of liquid at the bottom that the bread can’t reach.  For about 6 pieces of bread (again, this varies a LOT depending on your bread, but you can always add a little more to the pan) I use:

3 eggs, whisked up well with:

1/4 cup milk (it’s Ok to substitute non-dairy milk here)

A pinch of salt

A larger pinch of sugar

Next, add some flavorings to the egg mixture—whatever your heart desires.  A generous sprinkle of cinnamon, a pinch of ginger and a pinch of cloves is a good way to start, especially in winter.  A splash of liqueur is good—for an especially luxurious version, substitute a generous splash of cream for the milk, and add the lost liquid back in by way of brandy or rum etc.  Vanilla extract is good (but probably choose it or liqueur), or try another extract, maybe paired with a spice or two, for a unique flavor.  I especially like to compliment whatever I’m planning to put on top with a bit of something in the batter, but keep it fairly subtle.

french toast soakingSoak the toast in the batter for a few minutes, then flip the slices over, and let them soak for another couple minutes.

To cook the toast, heat up a heavy skillet over medium heat and melt some butter in it, maybe 1/2 Tablespoon butter for four slices (in my little skillet I used less).  The toast should sizzle when it hits the pan, and the egg batter should start to set up right away.  It only takes a few minutes to get lovely brown spots on the bottom side, at which point flip the toast over.  You may need to add a little more butter between batches.

If not all of the toast is done at once, you can keep it warm on plates in the oven at 200° F, until you’re ready to serve it.

For toppings, really, the sky is the limit.  It’s—ahem—delicious with just real maple syrup and homemade crème fraîche.  A little orange zest (or even iffy orange sauce) is really good with this basic setup.  Practically any fresh seasonal fruit is amazing on French toast, strawberries in spring are particularly wonderful.  Any jam you have is good.  Coarsely chopped toasted nuts are great (bread with nuts in it would also be great as base).  Melted butter, fruit syrup, whipped cream . . .

Some of my favorite flavor combinations may yet appear as time goes on.  Please share yours as well!