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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Pear Crisp with Cardamom

In which I also resolve to illustrate some posts for this blog.

 

pears 1

 

Every fall, it’s the pears that get me over my disappointment at the end of the stone fruit season, and convince me that everything’s going to be Ok.  I like to wait until they’re really ripe to eat them (at least most of the common kinds), ripe enough to slide a knife in one clean curve down the stem and around the seeds, with pear juice forming instantly on the cut surfaces.  That first bite of juicy ambrosial pear, that’s what convinces me that maybe I’ll get along with autumn alright after all.

I was hoping to have a recipe, not a just a short soliloquy, about pears for you, and I do!  It turns out that two of the dear friends we visited in the Northwest at the end of the summer have a copy of The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, and so I spent a little time pouring through that book looking for various ideas.  I’m really starting to admire the way she looks at the simplicity of cooking.  In the second household there was also a huge bowl of free pears from a colleague’s tree, and the inspired idea to combine pears and cardamom (thanks Becca!), so here you go.

 

Pear Crisp with Cardamom

Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

 

Slice 7 cups/4 lbs of fairly ripe pears (they don’t have to be as ripe as I like them for eating)

Toss the pears in a bowl with:

1  1/2 Tablespoons flour (can be white or wheat or gluten-free alternative, it’s just for thickening the juice)

Zest of 1 (organic) lemon

About 1 Tablespoon lemon juice

 

Pour the pears into a baking dish and make the crisp topping in the bowl:

Toast 2/3 cup walnuts in the oven at 375° F for about 10 minutes, until golden brown (set a timer!  I’m so bad at that, I burn things more often than I’d like to admit).  While they are toasting, mix in the bowl:

1  1/4 cups flour (again use what you like, gluten is not required to hold the crisp together.  I used a mixture of white and whole wheat flour)

6 Tablespoons brown sugar

1  1/2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

About 1/4 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds (if you have whole green pods, crush the pods lightly with the flat of a knife if necessary, pull the pods open, and extract the seeds.  Grind just the seeds in a mortar and pestle or with a spice grinder.  Fairly coarse ground is fine.)

Chop the walnuts and add them to the above mixture.  Mix well, and then cut in 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) of butter (cut into pieces), using your fingers or a pastry blender, just until the mixture comes together and has a texture like big crumbs.

Sprinkle the topping over the pears, and bake at 375° for about 50 minutes, rotating once for even baking.  When done, the crisp topping should be golden brown, and the fruit should be juicy and bubbling down in the dish.

 

pears 2

 

About the illustrations: I know I need to keep up my drawing skills, and I’d even like to practice enough to keep improving.  Since finishing Hello Sewing Machine, I haven’t had too much incentive to draw (other than little sketches like these, which I still make all the time).  I thought if I made it a goal to illustrate at least one post a month, I would be sure to get practice drawing.  I kind of forgot that I would also get practice scanning drawings and working in Photoshop . . . but it’s also practice I need.  I’m more of an illustrator than an artist, and more used to trying to make things clear than to capturing 3-D fruit in all it’s glory.  And I need to find some smoother paper . . . but one little bit at a time, right?

Good luck with your fall goals, whatever they are!  (And eat some pears!)

 

Blueberry Picking, Blueberry Pie

 

blueberry picking 1

 

I want to get this out there while there are still blueberries on the bushes.  A couple of weeks ago, we went blueberry picking with my husband’s father, sister, and our two little nieces, at Versluis Orchards near Grand Rapids, MI.  The pictures pretty much tell the rest of the story.  The blueberries were gorgeous, as well as delicious, and I found myself picking like mad, but leaving some of the most photogenic branches until the clouds cooperated for good lighting.  At which point I’d grab my camera, and (with a pang for the blueberries not filling my bucket during the moments of shooting) do my best to capture the lovely morsels, in all their shades from translucent green to lavender blue.  Then I’d force myself to grab the ripest ones from the shot and drop them in the bucket.

 

blueberry picking 2

 

blueberry picking 3

 

blueberry picking 4

 

Even with two youngsters in tow, we managed to pick a LOT of berries, about 10 pounds between us all.  They were astoundingly cheap compared to what you would pay at the grocery store, or even at a farm stand.  By way of something to think about, I’ll point out that these berries weren’t organic, although they were about as local to our location at the time as you could get.  And totally scrumptious.  There was a good essay on The Yellow House last week about how it’s not as simple as just choosing something labeled “local” or “organic,” and I agree 100%, although I think that either of those, especially local, are a great place to start.  My next step may be to ask more questions of the farmers, find out what are their thoughts about their practices.  I’m pretty shy by nature, but I’ll try to make that happen.

 

blueberry picking buckets

 

Anyway, there are so many good recipes out there that have blueberries in them (as the older niece pointed out) that it seems almost needless to include one here, but I will anyway.  It’s pretty simple, even if you don’t make pie often and/or have little ones sticking their fingers in your crust, it will turn out fine.  The five of us adults handily polished off the whole pie after dinner . . . it can’t have been that bad.

 

blueberry pie

 

Blueberry Pie

(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

 

For the crust:

You’ll need 2 1/4 cups of flour.  You can vary the percentage of whole wheat flour up to 100%, which is my personal favorite.  Since there were kids who might eat this pie too, I used 1 cup whole wheat, 1 1/4 white flour.

Put the flour in a bowl and add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar

Take 1 stick unsalted butter, cold from the fridge.  Cut it into pieces of about 1 tablespoon each.  You want to mix it into the flour so that tiny chunks of butter remain throughout the dough, without letting it melt or blend into the flour too much.  If you have a pastry blender, use it.  If not, my still-favorite method, especially if it’s not too hot in the kitchen, is to use my fingers to break up the butter into the four.  You can also use two knives, I have never gotten the hang of this, but one of my aunts is really good at it.  In any case, when you’re done, there should be some pea-sized chunks, as well as some dough with the texture of coarse cornmeal.

Put some ice and water into one of the measuring cups you’ve already used, and pour a little bit if it onto the butter and flour.  Start with just a few tablespoons, and mix it gently in.  You want just enough water that the dough will form a tidy ball and not look too dry.  Mix in just a little more ice water at a time until it looks good to you.  How much you need varies with the humidity, the kind of flour you use, etc.  When the dough is moist enough, divide it into two pieces, roughly round-shaped, and either cover the bowl or transfer the dough to an air-tight container.  Put it in the fridge to rest for about 1/2 hour.

 

In the meantime, place a rack below the center of the oven, preheat the oven to 400° F, and make the filling:

Rinse 5 heaping cups of blueberries.  A good method to separate any debris from the berries is to put them in a bowl, fill it with water, and stir until the debris floats to the top and you can pour it off.

Pour off all the water, and add to the bowl with the berries:

3/4 cup sugar (I like turbinado or natural sugar, a hint of brown sugar flavor is really nice with the berries)

3 Tablespoons cornstarch

1 Tablespoon lemon juice (you can add some lemon zest as well if your lemon isn’t sprayed and waxed)

Mix all this together and let stand for about 15 minutes.

Roll out one half of the crust into as good a circle shape as you manage, about 1/4 inch thick.  Put that half into an 9-inch pie pan, pressing it against the bottom and sides.  Use any pieces that stick out over the edge to patch any holes or gaps around the edges.

Roll out the second half of the crust.  For fun, instead of cutting a vent for steam, you can cut out shapes with a small cookie cutter before you put the crust on, and use the cut out shapes to decorate your pie (I got this lovely idea from my friend Megan years ago—thank you!).

Pour the filling into the bottom crust, put the top crust over it, and pinch the two crusts together around the edges.  Again, you can use any overhanging bits to patch holes.

To get your cookie cutter shapes to stick, and also to give your crust a little bit more deliciousness, you can glaze the crust with 1 egg yolk whisked with a little water.  If you can’t foresee using the egg white for anything (throwing it into an omelet, pancake batter, etc.) you can use the whole egg, the egg wash will be thicker.  Anyway, brush the egg wash all over the top crust with a pastry brush.  Stick your extra cookie cutter shapes on top, and brush more glaze over them.  Sprinkle a bit of sugar (the large crystal kind is nice, but regular granulated sugar works fine) on the glaze to give the crust a little more sparkle for your eyes and your mouth.

Bake the pie at 400° for 30 minutes.  Put a cookie sheet underneath to catch bubbling juice, lower the temperature to 350° and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until thick juices are bubbling through the holes and the crust is a warm brown all over, and darker in places.  If the crust starts to get too brown before the pie is done, you can try covering the whole thing or just the edges with aluminum foil.

Do you have a favorite blueberry recipe?  I’d love to know!

 

blueberry picking 5

 

 

 

 

Almond Paste Stuffed Dates

 

stuffed dates 1

 

Happy Midwinter everyone!  Light is sparkling off the snow here, and I’m quite excited that it’s coming back – after this we get just a bit more sun every day until the glories of summer  – no wonder so many cultures have celebrations around this time.

Whether you need some homemade gifts ASAP because the world did not in fact end today, or you had all that figured out long ago and just want a new winter treat to share with friends and family, I’ve got you covered.  These dates, soaked in brandy and orange juice, stuffed with almond paste and rolled in almonds, are fun to make and taste quite impressive!  They should be gluten-free as well, check the label on your almond paste to make sure.  We get Black Sphinx dates from Arizona Date Gardens – they’re wonderful.  Note: if you can find them sold in a plastic clam shell box, those are the freshest, gooiest dates you can imagine – and too soft for this recipe, they’ll just fall apart!  Use the regular, sold in a plastic bag or bulk bin kind here.

 

Almond Paste Stuffed Dates

adapted from two recipes in different editions of The Joy of Cooking

 

Pit, if not already done for you, 30 dates.  I like to use a “one clean hand” method, keeping a pairing knife in my dominant hand, and using the other hand for all the messy stuff; grabbing a date, holding it while I slice through it to the pit, pulling out the pit and tossing it in the compost, squeezing the date closed again and putting it in the bowl.  It sounds complicated but actually it’s pretty simple and efficient, especially if you have everything close by.

Place your pitted dates in the top of a double boiler.  I don’t actually own one, I use a pyrex bowl on top of a small pot of water, and the lid from another pot to cover the bowl.  Use whatever setup works, just make sure all the parts are heat safe and that nothing is in danger of falling over.

Pour over the dates: 1/4 cup brandy and 2 Tablespoons orange juice.  Bring the water in the bottom pot to a simmer, and let the dates heat in the brandy and OJ for 15 – 20 minutes (depending on how moist your dates are to start with), stirring them occasionally to make sure they all get a chance to soak up some yummy liquid.  They are done when the skins are curling off, you’ll see what I mean.

While the dates are cooking, pinch off pieces of almond paste and squish them to be about the size and shape of date pits.  They can be a little bigger, but not too much, or the dates won’t close around them.  Note: marzipan and almond paste are often sold side by side in the baking aisle of the grocery store.  Almond paste has more almonds and less sugar than marzipan, so it’s a better choice here because the dates are quite sweet on their own.

Also prepare the coating: grind about 1/2 cup almonds (some small chunks can remain but there should also be finer pieces – I do mine in a small food processor).  Add a pinch of sugar, a pinch of cinnamon and the zest of 1/2 orange.  Stir the coating together and put it on a cutting board or a plate for rolling.  Have a plate or piece of wax or parchment paper nearby to place the finished dates on.

 

stuffed dates 3

Hmm, iPhone pic, one of my goals for 2013 is to figure out how to take good pictures in my kitchen . . .

When the dates are done and cool enough to handle, pick them up one by one and peel off the large sections of skin that easily come off.  You don’t have to get all the skin off, but do get a fair amount so that the almonds will stick.  Place a piece of almond paste in the middle of each date, squeeze the date closed around it, and roll the surface in the almond mixture, then place the finished date aside.  You may have guessed that there are no clean hands for this part, but you do get to lick your fingers at the end.  As an extra bonus, there may be a little date-and-orange-steeped brandy left in the top of the double boiler when you finish the dates.  I highly recommend you drink this when no one is looking – it’s divine.

Let the dates dry for a few hours or overnight, then store them airtight.  I’ve never had any left to see how long they last, I would guess at least a few weeks in the fridge, and I ship them without fear.

 

stuffed dates 2

 

Enjoy!  And have a lovely solstice.