From the Market: Stone Fruit Edition

Stone Fruit Edition

“You’re gonna get the shits.”

It was the late 70s and I was maybe 10 years old — 10 being my default age for somewhat indistinct childhood memories — and the wind was whipping my hair into a rat’s nest. It was summer and I was riding in the back of a pickup truck with a group of kids, heading back to our meeting place after an afternoon of picking peaches. Oh, there was an adult riding with us who was there in a supervisory capacity, because there has to be ONE responsible grown-up around when you’re transporting a bunch of kids IN THE BACK OF A PICKUP TRUCK. No, we weren’t day laborers or or migrant peach-pickers, but a group of Mennonites gathered for a weekend pig roast in Mississippi to celebrate the dedication of a new church building. I suppose the adults wanted to get us out of the way and thought we’d burn off some energy gathering fruit.

I don’t remember the activity of picking itself, but the trip home is firmly planted in my memory. As I rode IN THE BACK OF THE PICKUP TRUCK, feeling the exhilaration of flying down the road while smiling with my mouth closed to prevent accidental bug ingestion, I saw those sacks of peaches before me and was overcome with a powerful peach-lust, the likes of which I’d never felt before. The scent was overwhelming, the skins so soft! I almost could imagine how Roberto Benigni felt about those pumpkins in Night on Earth! So I did what any kid would do; I devoured many peaches and started a full-scale peach-eating frenzy among my compatriots, complete with pit-spitting from the truck. I can only imagine the extent of the chromosomal damage done by eating so many unwashed fruits sprayed with who-knows-what insecticide was popular back then. After seeing me pluck one peach after another from the sack, the lone adult interjected that I miiiight possibly be concerned about my bowels later on if I continued (not a word about chromosomal damage, though). Lucky for me, there was no grand shitting incident then or later at the pig roast, but that experience did inaugurate my life-long love of peaches and, by extension, all stone fruits.

So when I saw the bounty of organic stone fruits at the Orchards of Concklin booth at the Ringwood Farmers’ Market, I got a little giddy. But my eyes are bigger than my stomach, and I came home with far too many fruits to eat on their own before they spoiled. Good thing there’s no shortage of recipes for such a problem at this time of year. I remembered saving this grilled kale salad from Bon Appetit to one of my Pinterest boards, and it turned out to be a perfect lunch. Grilling kale is nothing new, but the tartsweet plums, the creamy goat’s milk ricotta from Edgwick Farm, and honeyed balsamic vinaigrette shone against the background of smoky kale and set this apart from a standard salad preparation.

gluten-free

While I was grilling the kale, I cut the rest of the fruit in half, oiled it lightly, then tossed it on the grate to cook so it would last through the week. It made a great, simple dessert right away — an assortment of grilled fruit with more of that luscious goat’s milk ricotta drizzled with a little aged balsamic vinegar (the sweet stuff, not the grocery-store variety), fresh thyme and truffle honey.

gluten-free

Need. More. Of. This. Better add it to the list for this weekend.

gluten-free

With the rest of the grilled fruit, I made a mixed-fruit butter. The skins slipped off after grilling, so I threw the fruit halves in a saucepan with a little sugar and a splash of brandy, then cooked them down till the sauce was thick. To get it velvety smooth, I puréed it in my food processor for a bit. I’m not too proud to admit it’s pretty satisfying just spooned from the jar, but if you make this, save a little, because it’s stellar with pork chops. And eat to your heart’s content — I’m sure you won’t have any, er, troubles.

That’s a Wrap

Summer’s over and so is the photography portion of the cookbook project I spent my weekends on. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate 1) completing the work, 2) the unofficial start of fall and 3) football season than with a big pot of beef & lamb chili and an over-the-top dessert. It’s a retread of the Vanilla Roasted Pears with Amaretto Mascarpone I made earlier in the year, but made this time with the courage of my convictions. And let me tell you, espresso cream is in no way a bad (or overpowering) thing.

Seckel and Bartlett Pears

I had no real plans to go with such a fall feast, but the pears at the farmers’ market called to me Saturday.

I was powerless against them.

Fall dessert

Wicked, wicked pears.

Decadent fall dessert

Now please pardon me while I shovel more of this into my piehole.

Continue reading “That’s a Wrap”

From the Market — Week 5

Because it's cherry season!

Gather ye cherries while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying…

Unlike the apple, which you can’t miss because it won’t leave, the cherry is ephemeral, making its arrival much more eagerly anticipated. I’ve been seeing them piled up on fruit carts around the city for the past month or so, but I can’t bear the thought of random street germs wafting over my fruit, so I managed (just barely) to hold off until I could be sure to get local, juicy, pesticide- and city stank-free versions at the market.

Though cherry season is fleeting, we’re blessed with an abundance during that time, which means I couldn’t decide between varieties, so they all came home with me — Queen Anne, sour cherries, and sweet. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the sour cherries other use them for cherry soup, so I googled and got a great idea from Chowhound: I’m now the proud owner of a jar of bourbon-soaked sour cherries, which will be just the thing with a Manhattan for old bourbon-soaked me.

The rest of these babies went into a jam. It was my first attempt at recreating my current (expensive, Whole Foods) favorite — cherry-strawberry-almond jam — and it came pretty close, I’m pleased to say, especially because I just winged it. Though the agar agar I used as a thickening agent went way beyond the call of duty and lent the jam more of a Jell-o texture than the loose jam I wanted, whenever I glanced at the packet I was happy enough to reminisce about my high school biology teacher discussing petri dishes lined with “aaaagah aaaagah” before she cut into a dead frog or fetal pig.

Anyway, after that lovely image, if you want the recipe for this jam, stick around. I’ll give it another go this weekend.

From the Market — Week 3

Caramelized Scallops with Strawberry Salsa

I haven’t come close to using everything I picked up at the market this weekend, but here’s a good sampling of what we’ve had.

Strawberries. Oh, yes. Divine, luscious, sweet, knock-your-socks-off strawberries, the memory of which will drive me away from the display at the grocery store that tries to tempt me, so redly and smugly. “Hey Amy, it’s still summer. Doesn’t a large, mealy strawberry sound delicious right about now?” Erm, no. Even more so (possibly) than tomatoes, they’re just so much better from the local growers.

They deserved a more special treatment than sliced over homemade yogurt (though they popped up there, too), so I worked up a strawberry salsa to top caramelized scallops. I tempered the fruity salsa with red wine vinegar so it would balance the naturally sweet scallops.

And we both loved it — if only I’d made more than just the appetizer portion you see here! But I set some aside for a very different, but still delicious appetizer, inspired by this post at Chocolate & Zucchini. Instead of using smoked sea salt, I smoked the remaining scallops with alder chips in my Camerons Stovetop Smoker, but otherwise stuck to the general recipe, then topped them off with fleur de sel.

It wasn’t difficult, but was a bit more trouble than the original would be. I think I’d happily feature the radishes with smoked salt for a party, just for ease of assembly.

My refrigerator is also seriously stuffed with all sorts of greens which I haven’t delved into (much) yet, but weeknight dinners are looking up!

recipe after the jump

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Recipe doctoring

I’m a big mark for Patton Oswalt. Of course he’s funny, sometimes scathingly so, but what I like most about him is the degree of reflection he puts into any interview he gives. He’s been making the rounds to promote his new book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, so I caught him on a couple of podcasts recently — The BS Report with Bill Simmons and WTF with Marc Maron (which you must subscribe to, if you don’t already). Aaaaanyway, Oswalt made a great observation on The BS Report while discussing his work as a script doctor. He said he learned early on that movie remakes can be done well, provided they aren’t too faithful to the original. That if you explore the story from a tangent — and remake rather than retell — the new project isn’t so burdened and can become its own thing, possibly more interesting than the source material.

I agree fully with this approach, having experienced it repeatedly while struggling to make old favorites gluten-free. Some recipes handle the noodling better than others, but the simple fact is GF baked goods NEVER will be the same as ones made with wheat. And once I accepted that fact and moved on, I learned to love my food for what it is instead of moaning about what it can’t be.

In that spirit, I had a craving for tiramisu early in the week, wanted to make it gluten-free, and started pondering. You’d think finding an alternative to ladyfingers would be a big problem, but it really wasn’t; I stayed faithful to the original idea with mascarpone and cocoa, but remade the dessert into something new by using roasted pears as the base.

A quick search turned up a recipe for roasted pears on Smitten Kitchen, whose seal of approval is all the convincing I need to try a new dish. I sliced up both red bartlett pears and bosc, then adjusted the sugar down a bit, knowing they’d have to contend with a sweet topping later on.

When the pears came out of the oven they were perfect specimens of roasted pearhood, so even if I’d stopped there, toes would’ve curled and plates would’ve been licked. As you can see, the red bartletts were beautifully caramelized after an hour in the oven:

The boscs retained more of their juices and didn’t caramelize quite as much, but still were gorgeous and delicious in their own right:

But I just couldn’t stop there, since the milky, creamy part is what I love most about tiramisu. I didn’t want espresso in the mascarpone cream to overwhelm the delicate pears, so I worked up a rich version with amaretto and vanilla bean whipped cream instead.

Toppings were simple: I tried one version with cocoa powder and one without, but sprinkled both liberally with toasted ground almonds. I loved them equally and couldn’t choose a favorite any more than choosing between Rufus or Otis.

Success!

recipe after the jump

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Holiday Treats, Part the First

Hi, everyone. For the second year in a row, I’m afraid my schedule won’t allow for an annual Advent Calendar. (For honestly annual Advent Calendars past, see the 2007 & 2008 installments.) Part of the craziness is just my day job, which always astounds me with its busy-ness — you’d think I’d get used to holiday madness after working for a clothing retailer for 10 years, wouldn’t you? — but also

< < < < BIG ANNOUNCEMENT > > > >

I have a photo assignment! I’ll be shooting photos for a cookbook (not my own) starting next weekend!!!! It’s really just a dream come true, as clichéd and silly as that sounds, especially because I’ve toyed with giving up on this blog so many times. But without it I certainly never would have learned enough about photography to even consider doing this for a living. (Just putting it out there, universe…)

Anyway, instead of the Advent Calendar, I’m hoping to squeeze in a few posts on easy-to-make treats that might be nice for the holiday season. These little chocolate & pomegranate nibbles were inspired by something I saw in a comments section somewhere, but I just can’t remember the site. (If they look familiar, please leave a comment and I’ll give credit where it’s due.) Just melt chocolate in a double boiler, add pomegranate arils to achieve a chunky consistency, spoon onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet and top with more arils, then chill until ready to serve. The juicy, tart arils really are a delicious foil to the smooth, bittersweet chocolate (or chocolate of your choice). I used only the two ingredients that were suggested, but I’d imagine they’d be delicious with the addition of chopped nuts, warm spices or a little liqueur.

And a little housecleaning:
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I didn’t make latkes this year for my husband because we’d much rather eat McDonald’s fries than any fried potato that comes out of my kitchen, but we did get the dogs to dress up for another portrait session. (One of the really, truly annual things on this blog. 2009 edition. 2008 edition.) Poor guys.

Happy Hanukkah!

not thrilled with this Hanukkah thing
Otis, rakish

Will there be treats?
Rufus, dubious

Stay tuned for Christmas photos next week.

You say, “Chayote,” I say, “Mirliton”

Mirliton’s kind of sneaky. Your odds of finding it by that name outside of Louisiana are about as good as a collection agency making a successful phone call: “You’re looking for Mirliton? Yeah, sorry, he just stepped out. … Who, me? I’m, uuuhhh, Chayote. Oh, and Mango Squash is around, too, if you’d like to talk to her.” If you can’t tell, it goes by any number of aliases, so finding them in your neck of the woods shouldn’t be especially difficult.

Like a summer squash, it’s not exactly assertive on the flavor front, but does a great job absorbing seasonings from its dish-mates. My grandma used to make a wonderful mirliton bread (similar to zucchini bread) and a mirliton casserole with fresh shrimp and crabmeat that would be pretty familiar to most people of the Cajun persuasion. I may have to recreate that casserole soon, but first I had to attempt the pickles my cousin Darrin made last Christmas. Slightly sweet, spicy and just crispy enough to provide some resistance… well, I just had an envie, cher.

Luckily, chayotes were abundant at my grocery, so I picked up what felt like 10 pounds to my pipe cleaner arms for the recipe I’d chosen from Chef John Folse’s site. I knew these pickles would really cure any homesickness I was feeling thanks to the Zatarain’s bath and copious amounts of garlic that were featured.

Before getting started, I recalled my previous encounters with mirliton and pulled out the most important items for dealing with it in its raw state:

Seriously, these things are paradoxically slippery and sticky once you cut into them, so you’ll dearly regret it if you don’t invest in a cheap pair of gloves. They’re not especially hard to slice or to peel, but I’m a big proponent of sharp knives and it made for a better picture.


They really resemble mutant, juicy apples, at least in cross-section.

I didn’t bother canning them proper-like because I was sure that: 1) Refrigeration, plus the vinegar in the brine would keep them from spoiling, and 2) They wouldn’t be around for very long, anyway.

And I’m very happy to report that success was achieved. No picture of the finished product because they’re pickles, ya know? But they really set off a spicy Bloody Mary, and anyone I’ve shared them with has raved. Could be mere politeness, but I prefer to think Chef Folse hit another one out of the park.


You know, they also resemble shriveled centenarian mouths.

recipe after the jump

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My First Faux-caccia

You know, this whole gluten-free thing hasn’t been quite the pain in the ass I expected at first, and not just because I’m lucky enough only to get joint pain when I eat gluten (meaning I can cheat without major repercussions from time to time). I work in New York, so GF lunches are fairly easy to find, and once I got over my egg sandwich craving for breakfast it was pretty smooth sailing. The difficulties I’m having are in finding acceptable pre-packaged bread and pasta. I’ve turned out a few decent loaves of bread on my own in the past few months, but dried pasta offerings have been uniformly disappointing so far. If you have any recommendations, I’m all ears!

One of these surprisingly good homemade bread experiments was a gluten-free redo of a Concord grape focaccia I first tried last year. It took a couple of weeks to get to the point of baking that bread, just because focaccia is a favorite of mine and I knew no wheatless version could compare to the real thing… but then I sucked it up, put on my big girl pants and got to work.

And you know what? The weeks of anxiety were just a silly way to spend my time — it turned out great! Gil and I ate about half of it that first day, so I’d consider it a success. Also? It’s much, much easier than baking honest-to-goodness bread — no kneading involved and no overnight rest in the fridge, so the time between craving and craving fulfillment is much abridged.

I just received my copy of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, which has another version of focaccia that I’m dying to try. Let’s hope those Concord grapes hold out one more week!

recipe after the jump

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From the Market: Weeks 9 & 10

peach ice cream

The word of the week was peaches. They’re my favorite fruit-as-fruit (with tomatoes as my favorite fruit-as-vegetable), so I’ve been heading to the farmers’ market even more eagerly on Saturday mornings than usual. The peaches have been spilling over, so apart from being eaten out of hand, mixed with yogurt for breakfast, atop salads and in salsas, they made a command performance in the quintessential summer dessert — peach ice cream (using my Aunt’s recipe for the custard base).

And because I love nothing more than gilding the lily, raspberry-blueberry coulis really set this off, providing a tart counterpoint to the smooth sweetness of the ice cream. It’s really simple to make, too. Just throw 2-3 handfuls of berries into a small saucepan, add a little sugar (I used about a tablespoon of vanilla sugar) and some lemon juice. Cook it over medium heat until the berries break down and the sauce starts to thicken. Cool, and use it to top whatever comes to mind.

Peaches from Treelicious Orchards and Orchards of Conklin and berries from the latter.

We’ve been eating out a bit lately, discovering new dishes and supporting new restaurants, which resulted in haunted dreams of Picnic‘s truffled corn chowder and the urge to create my own summer dish. Since buying a truffle is hard to justify as part of an experimental dish for only Gil and myself, I went in a completely different (read: cheaper) direction while still keeping it in the chowder family. What I came up with was nothing like Picnic’s masterpiece, but it was a worthy addition to my repertoire. Here’s what I did to make Smoked Corn Chowder.

It started with meat, as you probably knew it would. I scored the skin of two duck breast halves, gave them a good all-over coating of my beef rub, then left them uncovered in the fridge for a few hours before firing up the smoker. To keep the corn from overcooking (and to take advantage of the delicious duck fat that would be rendering from the breasts), I placed two shucked ears of corn on the lower level of my Weber Smokey Mountain (just above the water pan) and the duck breasts in the center of the top rack.

Before I go any farther, you should know that Gil takes whatever’s put in front of him with equanimity, typically. He keeps his head down and eats whatever I make without much censure or praise, no matter the how I feel about what’s on the plate. But these duck breasts earned the title The Best Thing Ever from him. (Take that as you will.) And they were awfully good, even if the skin didn’t get entirely crispy, which turned out to be a good thing for the chowder.

To take advantage of that extra fat on the smoked breasts, I devised a workable solution: I’d chop the seasoned fat from 1/2 of a duck breast and render it in place of bacon in the chowder. When the skin had crisped and given up as much fat as possible, I set it aside to use as garnish for the finished soup. The rest of the chowder was a pretty standard affair, but the smoked corn and slight hint of duck really added something special to it.

with crispy duck skin

I liked the proportion of smoked corn to fresh — the smoke wasn’t overwhelming, but gave the silky chowder a depth it doesn’t usually have. Feel free to play with amounts for more or less of the smoky goodness.

I assume Gil agreed, because we ate it all in one sitting. Nom, indeed.

recipe after the jump

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