Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fresh black-eyed peas with ham

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Every week I buy something from my favorite lady at the farmers' market. She had the best green garlic in the spring, and I've always loved her strawberries and radishes. She sells nopales (cactus paddles), too, trimmed and diced; I can't resist, even though I'm never quite sure what to do with them.

Today she had a huge pile of fresh black-eyed peas. The pods were beautiful - long and thin, dark green, with subtle bulges where the fat beans lay inside. I'd never bought them before, but of course I was fascinated.

There was a woman picking through the pods carefully, filling a bag. She was humming to herself as she sorted them with her long fingers. She looked like she knew what she was doing, so I asked her how she cooks them.

"Get yourself a ham hock," she told me. "Boil it up in some water for an hour, then add the beans and cook 'em till they're soft. They're goo-oo-ood." Seeing Emery with me, she tilted her head his way: "Make him do the shellin'," she added.

I didn't have to make him, of course. He shelled willingly. It took a while, too, and I was glad for the help. I did exactly as instructed: bought a ham hock at Bob's Market, which Richard the butcher kindly chopped into a few pieces; simmered it in water in my cast-iron dutch oven; added the shelled beans and a little more water. An hour later the beans were soft and smokey, the ham was falling apart, and the broth was...was...I can't even describe how delicious it was. No words. Me, without an adjective - can you believe it? Doesn't happen very often, you know.

I have no southern roots, and I didn't grow up cooking with ham. But now that I know, I'm never letting go. I'm sure some ancestor is rolling over in a grave somewhere. Oh well. 

Fresh black-eyed peas with ham hock
  • 1 2-lb ham hock, cut into several pieces by your helpful butcher if possible
  • 2 lbs fresh black-eyed peas (yields about 3 cups shelled)
  • salt to taste
Put the ham hock in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover the pot, and simmer. This softens the ham and imparts a lot of delicious, salty, smokey flavor to the cooking liquid.

Meantime, shell the black-eyed peas. It's tough going; the pods don't zip open easily when they're really fresh. Have patience. Recruit an assistant. Put on some good music. You'll be there a while. It's okay, because the ham hock needs to simmer for a while. In fact, it needs to simmer for exactly as long as it takes you to shell the beans. Convenient, yes?

Add the shelled black-eyed peas to the ham in the pot, and top it off with a little more water if you need it. Simmer the mixture about an hour, until the beans are very soft and the ham can be shredded easily with a fork. Taste and add salt to your liking. Remove the ham hocks from the beans and put them on a cutting board; discard the bones and shred the meat, taking out any fat or gristle.

Drain the beans of most of their liquid and put them in a serving bowl. Do not throw away the liquid; it's ambrosia. I used mine to cook another pot of beans - dried this time - which I'll put in the freezer for another time. Add the shredded ham to the black-eyed peas and serve.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bisquick zucchini fritters recipe

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I don't subscribe to that whole thing about hiding vegetables so kids will eat them without knowing they're there. In these Bisquick zucchini fritters, it's clear that zucchini is the main ingredient. But they eat them anyway, because I do subscribe to the theory that if you surround the vegetables with delicious things like cheese and herbs, then fry the heck out of them in olive oil, kids will be much more likely to find them palatable. (Remember the spinach pancakes I wrote about a few months back? Along those lines.)

Thus these Bisquick zucchini pancakes. I'm the only one in my family who will actually eat zucchini unadorned. But when I fry up these simple zucchini fritters, even my zucchini-hating husband chokes down a few without complaining. I'd say he was trying to set a good example, but when it comes to zucchini, even he won't go that far.

I like to give these zucchini fritters a Greek turn, using feta, green onions, and dill or mint. But there are lots of possibilities: goat cheese and chives; parmesan and basil; you get the idea. And why Bisquick? Because I'm too lazy to measure and sift on a weeknight, and these babies do better with a little lift. I use the low-fat Bisquick baking mix, and I have no issues with it. If you prefer another baking mix - a whole-grain one would work well here - please use it. Or use flour and a little baking powder and I think you'll be fine.

print recipe

Bisquick zucchini fritters
Simple zucchini pancakes will make any kid glad to eat his vegetables.
  • 2 cups zucchini, grated (2 large or 5 small)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup Bisquick, or more to get the right consistency
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried or 2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped (or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint)
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • olive oil, for frying
Put the shredded zucchini in a strainer set over a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let sit about 20 minutes; some of the water in the zucchini will start to drip out of the strainer. Wad up a few paper towels and push down on the zucchini in the strainer, squeezing more of the liquid out. Do this a few times. I don't get manic about this - I know some people roll the zucchini in a towel and wring it out - I'm not that dedicated. A little extra liquid won't hurt the finished product.In a large bowl, beat the egg, then add the Bisquick, cheese, green onions and herbs. Mix it up - it will be thick. Now add the zucchini and mix again. You should have a batter the consistency of very thick pancake batter or muffin batter. Let it sit about 10 minutes; more liquid will come out of the zucchini and loosen it up a bit, and that's fine. Add a healthy dose of ground black pepper and mix once more.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat - I always use my cast-iron pan for this - and add about 2 Tbsp olive oil. Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls into the hot oil. Fry the pancakes until both sides are golden brown. Repeat with the remaining batter. Don't try to turn the pancakes too early, and don't skimp on the oil - either of these mistakes will cause the pancakes to fall apart. As the pancakes come out of the pan, put them on a rack set over a baking sheet. I don't like to drain fried things on paper towels - it makes them soggier than they need to be. You can keep them in a warm oven if you like, but I normally serve them at room temperature because in our house they're definitely finger food.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: about 2 dozen fritters

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Zucchini salad with Meyer lemon and parmesan

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Tomato cobbler with fennel pollen

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Every summer I plant zucchini and tomatoes. And every summer I'm disappointed. We're supposed to be able to grow everything in southern California, but my backyard has not gotten that message. Some combination of poor soil despite constant amendments, foggy coastal summers, and parental neglect (oops) dooms my summer garden every year.

My tomatoes - heirlooms and hybrids alike - get wilt, or a fungus, or powdery mildew, or some other ailment that causes them to shrivel up and die. The zucchini, those dependable producers every other gardener is sick of and trying to pawn off by the end of July, suffer the same fate. Last year, thinking it was a problem in the soil, I planted tomatoes and zucchini in pots, with potting soil that went straight from bags to brand-new huge pots. Guess what? Same problem. Something in the air, maybe. Only the cherry tomato plants produced at all; the plants looked like hell, but each plant did give a few pounds of fruit before it rolled over for good.

This year I gave my garden the cold shoulder. I ignored it for many months out of spite. But last weekend I relented and planted, a little. No tomatoes, no zucchini. No longer will I play the masochist. I stuck to weeds: basil, tarragon, chives, lettuce, arugula, chard. Leafy plants won't likely succumb to the same fungus (if that's what it is) that loves the tomatoes and zucchini so. They should be okay.

The only downside to skipping the tomatoes is not having home-grown tomatoes to make this tomato cobbler, one of the most popular recipes I created last summer. The cherry tomatoes that did grow last year ripened all at once, and coincidentally I'd gotten some fennel pollen from Golden Gourmet Pollen to play with. This cobbler was one of those happy experiments where you taste it and wonder where it's been all your life. Guess this year I'll have to beg some cherry tomatoes from my green-thumb friends (yes, Hilary, that means you).

Tomato cobbler with garden herbs, cheese and fennel pollen
  • 6 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups plus 2 Tbsp flour, divided
  • 2 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup shredded hard cheese (try Gruyere, aged Monterey jack or mild cheddar)
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh herbs, any sort (e.g. parsley, chives, oregano, basil, tarragon)
  • 1 tsp fennel pollen
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the tomatoes with 2 Tbsp of flour, the garlic, and 1 tsp of salt. Pour into a greased 9x13 baking dish. Bake 15 minutes to soften the tomatoes and start their juices flowing.

While the tomatoes are baking, make the biscuit topping: Whisk together remaining flour, remaining salt, baking powder, baking soda, shredded cheese, herbs, fennel pollen spice and pepper in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil and yogurt or buttermilk; add to the flour mixture. Stir with a fork until a dough forms. If it's too dry, add a little more oil. With one hand, knead the dough 5-6 times by turning it over on itself in the bowl.

Remove the tomatoes from the oven after 15 minutes and drop the biscuit dough in clumps on top of the tomatoes. Return the pan to the oven and bake about 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are cooked through and golden on top, and the tomatoes are bubbling. Serve at room temperature for best flavor.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pasta salad with pesto and cherry tomatoes

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This pasta salad with pesto is my go-to summer potluck recipe for three simple reasons:
  1. It's easy.
  2. It takes full advantage of the season's best ingredients.
  3. Everyone loves it. 

I make my own pesto (here's my favorite pesto recipe), but once or twice I've fallen back on store-bought pesto, and the pasta salad is still almost as good.

If you like your pasta salad more complicated, by all means add more stuff - little balls of mozzarella, capers, a few chopped bell peppers, olives, all those would go very well with the pesto and cherry tomatoes. I prefer the plainer version. Why? See number 1 above.

Pasta salad with pesto and cherry tomatoes
  • 1 lb dried fusilli, rotelle or other short, curly pasta
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups pesto
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
  • handful of basil leaves, for garnish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain the pasta, put it in a big mixing bowl, toss it with the olive oil, and let it cool about half an hour. You don't want the pasta to be hot when you add the sauce - the pesto will lose its vibrant green color and edge toward brownish. That will happen soon enough on the buffet table, but you might as well start the dish out with every advantage. 

When the pasta is mostly cool, add the pesto and mix well. Scatter the cherry tomatoes and basil leaves on top of the bowl. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Creamy corn soup with truffles

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Creamy corn soup with truffles - photos by LentilBreakdown

I should have made more corn soup for Trufflepalooza. It was the first course to go out, and we served it in tiny three-ounce juice glasses from Ikea (90 glasses for $25, can you believe it?). We only filled the glasses half full - could have used shot glasses, really - and still the soup was gone in a flash. The stragglers, by which I mean anyone who showed up more than half an hour after the official start time, got none. And that's a shame, because this might have been the best dish at the party.

Most of the time corn soup is chunky, like a chowder. This was smooth and creamy because Lynne of Cook and Be Merry sieved the entire pot through the new chinois I purchased just for this recipe. She says I should have bought the conical wooden thing that rolls around inside the chinois - I thought a ladle would work fine, but the next time I make this I'll have to spring for the wooden tool. (Or maybe I'll start over and buy this Fox Run Three Piece Stainless Steel Chinois Set - the wooden thing is included.)

Anyway, creamy corn soup. It was like drinking warm corn milk. Three more reasons this soup turned out so well. First, amazing corn, which is why I would only make this soup in summer when you can find the best, sweetest white corn. Second, after I stripped the corn kernels from the cobs, I took the time to make a corn stock by simmering the stripped cobs in chicken broth. And third, I only cooked the corn kernels in the soup for a few minutes, just long enough to get them soft; this kept the taste fresh and clean.

And then, of course, there were the truffles. I think this soup would be delicious even without them. But with the addition of a few drops of truffle oil and a grating of fresh black summer truffle - transporting.

Creamy corn soup with truffles
  • 6 ears of corn, husked
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp white truffle oil
  • salt and ground white pepper
  • 1 black summer truffle (optional)
  • Equipment: immersion blender, chinois (or fine-mesh strainer)
Strip the corn kernels from the cobs with a knife. I do this in a large bowl, holding the ear of corn vertically and cutting down with a large chef's knife, so the kernels fall into the bowl as I cut them off. Set the corn kernels aside, preferably in the refrigerator.

Make the corn stock by simmering the stripped cobs in the chicken stock - you'll want to break the cobs in half, probably, to fit them into the pot. Simmer them about half an hour, then remove the cobs from the stock.

In a large pot, melt the butter and saute the onions over medium heat just until they soften. Do not let them brown - you don't want the strong flavor of caramelized onion to overpower the corn. This is a very delicate soup. When the onion is soft, add the corn stock, milk, and corn kernels. Bring this just to a simmer; do not let it boil, or the milk will curdle. Simmer very, very gently for about 10 minutes.

Puree the soup in the pot with the immersion blender. Do an extra-good job here. Now place the chinois or fine-mesh strainer over a clean pot (yes, you'll have multiple pots to wash, sorry about that) and pour the soup in. You'll have to push the liquid through with a spoon, ladle or the special wooden chinois tool as you move the solids around inside the chinois. Continue until you have sieved all the soup. (Don't throw away the corn solids - you can add them to cornbread or savory pancakes.)

Add the cream to the smooth, strained soup, heat gently until steaming, and taste; it should taste like the liquid version of corn on the cob bathed in butter. Add the truffle oil, salt, and ground white pepper to taste. Again, do not let the soup boil. Serve with a grating of fresh black truffle on top.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Open-faced filet mignon and truffled Brie sandwiches

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Monday, July 19, 2010

How to make truffle butter

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Black summer truffles (photo: Robyn Skwarczek)

When planning the menu for Trufflepalooza 2010, my recent 13-course truffle orgy, several condiments from my friends at Sabatino Tartufi figured prominently. I have these items in my pantry all the time, not just during truffle season:
Sabatino also makes a beautiful truffle butter, but when I have truffles in hand, I prefer to make my own truffle butter. The truffle butter you can buy comes in tiny little tubs, and we go through a lot of truffle butter when we're in the mood, so I actually think it's cost-effective to make your own. (Don't hold me to that; I'm not a numbers girl, I haven't done the math, and it depends how much you pay for your fresh truffles.)

More reasons to make your own truffle butter: I like the delicate flavor of homemade butter. And I like the look on people's faces when I tell them I made my own butter. Which, by the way, is so easy you're going to laugh. Get out your food processor and you're ready to go.

Radish truffle butter tartines (photo: Lentil Breakdown)

What to do with truffle butter? I spread it on slices of baguette (toasted or not) and top it with paper-thin radishes and a sprinkle of truffle salt (see: Tartines with radishes and truffle butter). At the inaugural Trufflepalooza in 2009, I sauteed chunks of filet mignon and then tossed them in truffle butter.

 Open-faced filet mignon sandwiches with truffle butter (photo: Lentil Breakdown)

This year, to change things up, we grilled the filet mignon, cut it thinly, and draped slices of meat over truffle-buttered-baguette, then topped with grated fresh truffle and a dusting of truffle salt. This dish elicited the best quote of Trufflepalooza 2010, from a friend who shall remain nameless until she tells me it's okay to identify her: "If you'd seen me when I tasted that, you would have seen my 'O' face." I repeated this to my mother and it took a full five minutes and some very specific prompting for her to understand. I'm assuming everyone else gets it.

Of course, homemade truffle butter is at its finest atop a good piece of bread, all alone, preferably in a dark room (candlelight, even), with a good glass of wine nearby. Remember to inhale deeply.

How to make truffle butter
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 tsp white or black truffle oil
  • 1/4 tsp truffle salt, or to taste
  • 1 fresh black summer truffle (you won't need the whole thing)
Line a colander with a few coffee filters; rip them open and lay them in so that the colander has one layer of filter throughout, more or less. Place the colander in the sink. 

Pour the cream into the bowl of a food processor. Turn on the processor. Go do something else for a few minutes while the machine does its thing.

When you hear the noise change and things sound a bit sloshy, go back and look. You'll know when it's done - the butter solids will have separated from the buttermilk and will be clumped together. Stop the processor. You'll probably see one big clump of butter, and then some smaller clumps drifting in the liquid.

Lift out the butter solids with your hand and squeeze a little to get some of the liquid out. Put the butter in the colander. Fish out the little bits of butter and add those to the colander. I don't save the liquid unless my father-in-law is around - he likes to drink it.

Knead the butter a little in the colander to get some more of the liquid out. Then let the butter drain for about 30 minutes. Put a paper towel on top and press down to get the remaining liquid out. The butter will still be quite soft, which is good. Turn it into a mixing bowl.

Add the truffle oil, truffle salt, and grated truffle to the fresh butter and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until it's combined thoroughly. Taste and add more salt if you like your butter salty. Refrigerate the butter in a container lined with paper towels or more coffee filters. It will keep in the refrigerator about a week, and in the freezer as long as you might possibly be able to resist it (in our case, about six months).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Grilled cheese with truffles

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This weekend I threw a little truffle party. Okay, kind of a big truffle party. Warning: If you don't like truffles, you might want to check back with me in a few weeks. Thirteen courses = many recipes ahead that included black summer truffles, starting with this gourmet grilled cheese with truffles. Prepare yourself.

So how did it start, this truffle obsession? Well, last year I got a great deal on black summer truffles from Italy from my friends at Specialty Produce in San Diego. My husband and I threw an impromptu party we dubbed Trufflepalooza - nine courses of truffles (and lots of fun for the chef too). Many photos were taken, and I blogged about it. That's turned out to be one of my most popular posts ever. Seems like other people are as taken with truffles as I am. It seemed clear that once was not enough.

And so Trufflepalooza II was born. This year I put in a little more advance planning. After last year's party I met the folks in the Los Angeles branch of Sabatino Tartufi, one of the biggest importers of fresh truffles from Italy and manufacturer of exquisite truffle salt, butter and oils. They supplied the truffles I got from Specialty Produce, and they stuck a card in the box because they wanted to know what kind of crazy non-professional home chef wanted to buy a pound of their truffles. Naturally, Sabatino and I became fast friends. The first time we had lunch, the Sabatino rep took a call on his cell phone at the table: I would have been insulted, but it was his mother phoning from Italy. In addition to the fact that he is an extremely nice and handsome Italian man - and what girl doesn't need more of those in her life? - the Sabatino guy is great company, often comes bearing truffle condiments and samples as gifts, and makes a mean risotto.

I called Sabatino to find out when the black summer truffles would be at their peak, and we set a date for Trufflepalooza 2010. Then I went to work on the menu. I meant to keep it simple, but I kept thinking of new things to do with those glorious truffles, and we ended up with 13 courses. You'll hear about them all over the next few weeks, but one of my favorites was this decadent grilled cheese with truffles.

For me, the ultimate grilled cheese starts with good bread and good cheese. I special-ordered brioche loaves from Le Pain du Jour, a small French bakery in Santa Monica. I used fontina because I love its buttery flavor and the way it oozes when it melts. A shower of grated truffle, a few drops of truffle oil, and a bit of butter, and you've got the best grilled cheese ever. EVER. Trust me.

Grilled cheese with truffles
Lay two pieces of bread on a cutting board. Divide the cheese evenly between the two slices of brioche. Sprinkle a few drops of truffle oil and a pinch of truffle salt on each slice, then grate over a little of the fresh truffle. Top with the other slices of bread. Butter or oil the outside of the top slices.

Put a skillet on the stove over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, put the sandwiches buttered- or oiled-side down. Press down with a spatula as the sandwich is toasting to flatten the sandwiches a bit. Butter or oil the sides facing up, then flip the sandwiches when the bottoms are golden brown. Cook until both sides are perfectly golden and toasted. Cut in half and serve immediately.

Two notes: First, for Trufflepalooza II, I actually made these in the oven, as making grilled cheese for 70 people on the stove would take quite a long time. But they're better made stovetop. Second, I know truffle oil and truffle salt look expensive. But they're worth the splurge, because you only use a little and the last a long time. Treat yourself.

Grilled Cheese

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Peach tart

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Monday, July 12, 2010

White bean dip with pesto

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I'm a big believer in a well-stocked pantry. My husband is ready to nominate me for that "Hoarders" show because of my well-stocked pantry, but then I whip up something like this white bean dip with pesto, and he has to admit that it's actually handy having things like dried white beans around for months at a time. You never know when dried white beans will come in handy, right?

My white beans came in handy for our 4th of July barbecue. We always have a party on the 4th of July because our back deck overlooks Marina del Rey and the South Bay, and we can see fireworks all along the horizon. We also have some daredevil neighbors who light their own Roman candles and such at the bottom of our hill, quite nearby. We turn out all the lights and stand on the deck with our friends, and we just stare. It's an exciting night at our house, and romantic, and just plain magical.

Before that, of course, we ate. And we started with raw veggies and this easy, healthy dip, the most beautiful shade of green you've ever seen. I like the combination of white beans and basil, particularly with a big shot of garlic and a slug of lemon.

White bean dip with pesto
  • 1/2 pound dried white beans (or 2 cans white cannellini beans)
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto (my favorite pesto recipe or purchased)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • juice and zest of 1 small lemon
  • handful of fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook the dried white beans until they are soft. I don't believe in pre-soaking dried beans, unless I happen to think of it the night before I want to cook them (usually not). You can cook them from dry with no problem; it just takes a little longer than if they'd been soaked.

If you're using canned beans, skip the step above, obviously.

Drain the cooked beans (save the liquid just in case) and put them in the bowl of a food processor with the pesto, garlic, lemon juice and zest, and parsley. Turn on the processor and run it until everything is chopped. With the processor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube; you'll see the texture of the dip change and get creamy-looking. If you get to the end of the 1/3 cup oil and the dip still isn't smooth, add some of the bean liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and you're done.

Serve the dip with cut-up vegetables. I used colored bell peppers, cut into square chunks, which make perfect dippers; celery, one of the vegetables my younger son will always eat happily; and raw kohlrabi, thinly sliced, which, if you've never eaten it, is just fabulous - crispy, sweet if you get the smaller bulbs, a tiny bit cabbagey, but in a very good way.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Apricot almond tart recipe

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The apricots are winding down. The last time I visited my special tree in my friends' front yard, everything within reach was ripe, and I picked it. To celebrate (or perhaps mourn) the end of the season, I made a simple apricot tart with almonds.

Well, not almonds exactly - almond butter. In a flash of inspiration prompted by the realization that I'd used up two pounds of butter in the past week, I decided to make a thin crumble-like topping using just almond butter, sugar, and a bit of flour. I'm told it was a spectacular combination. I didn't eat any myself, as, sadly, I'm currently trying to cut back on sweets and starches - doctor's orders. But I watched the tart disappear in my office. It was gone in less than five minutes, so I'm assuming it was all right.

Note: The crust is borrowed from Amanda Hesser's mother's peach tart, which appears in her wonderful memoir Cooking for Mr. Latte. Don't be put off by the use of olive oil - it makes a very flaky crust with a rich flavor. Also, if you use unsalted almond butter in the topping, add a pinch of salt when mixing it up.

Apricot almond tart
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp milk or cream
  • 12-15 apricots, halved and pitted
  • 1/4 cup smooth almond butter (salted)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In an 8-inch square baking pan, stir together 1 1/2 cups flour, the salt, and 1 Tbsp sugar with a fork to combine. In a measuring cup, mix together the olive oil and milk. Pour the liquids into the baking pan and use the fork to mix the dry ingredients with the liquids, stopping when the dough has just come together. With your fingers, press the dough over the bottom and up the sides of the baking pan. Lay the apricots cut-side down in rows over the dough in the pan.

In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 3 Tbsp flour, the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and the almond butter with your fingers. Work them together until the mixture looks like wet crumbs. Drop this over the apricots evenly.

Bake the tart about 40 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are golden and the apricots are juicy and bubbling. Cool to room temperature before slicing.

Apricot on FoodistaApricot

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Apricot turnovers

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Thanks to the generosity of friends from work and the mini-orchard at their house, I have had many pounds of small, sweet apricots to play with over the past few weeks. I assume they are Blenheims, the magical, highly desired variety you never see in stores, because of both their size and the intensity of their flavor. Blenheims by the bushel - I am one lucky girl.

I've stuffed apricots with goat cheese, made easy apricot jam, and joined them with cherries for apricot clafoutis. But what my husband really likes is pie. I took some puff pastry out of the freezer last weekend and made these beautiful apricot turnovers for him. Are you wondering why I used frozen puff pastry when you know I conquered my fear of pie crust when I made that rustic cherry pie a few weeks ago? Because it was there, that's why. And it's so easy.

Puff pastry apricot turnovers (makes 8)

  • 8-10 fresh, ripe apricots, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 cup raw cane sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 17.3-ounce package Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry sheets (2 sheets), defrosted
  • flour for rolling out pastry
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp milk or cream
Mix the apricots with 1/4 cup raw sugar and the cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl. Let sit 1/2 hour to release some of the juices. (The cornstarch will thicken the juices from the fruit while the turnovers bake.)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Sprinkle some flour on your countertop and roll out one sheet of the puff pastry dough until it's thin and roughly a 12-inch square. I say "roughly" because, trust me, mine was quite rhomboid. If you like to be exact, you can measure and trim and all that. Me, I prefer to live dangerously.

Now cut the dough into four more or less equal square. Spoon a small amount of the apricot mixture into the center of one square, then fold over the corner to enclose the filling and make a triangle. Don't use too much of the filling or it will leak out when you bake the turnovers. Why yes, I did learn that one the hard way - so glad you asked. Carefully move the turnover to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining rolled-out squares, then with the other sheet of puff pastry dough. You will have 8 turnovers in all. I used two baking sheets, but you might be able to squeeze your turnovers onto one - they won't spread, so you can bake them close together on the sheet.

Pinch the edges closed with your fingers, then use the tines of a fork to press the seams closed. Coincidentally, using a fork on the turnovers this way leaves a lovely pattern along the edges, which almost makes the pastries look professional. Beat the egg and milk or cream together in a small bowl, then brush the turnover with the egg mixture - this will help it bake up brown and glossy. Sprinkle with a little more of the raw sugar, poke a few holes in the tops with your fork, and slide the turnovers into the oven.

Bake the turnovers about 20 minutes, until they are nicely  browned and you can see the juices escaping from the flaky pastry shells. (That's inevitable, no matter how well you sealed your turnovers.) Cool on the baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature. These turnovers are best on the day they're baked; if you're serving them the next day, warm them in the oven for a few minutes before serving to crisp the outsides.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Stuffed apricots with goat cheese and pistachios

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Fresh apricots stuffed with goat cheese and chopped pistachios

There have been three apricot trees in my life.

The first stood in the backyard of my mother's cousin Bernice. I never saw it with ripe fruit - somehow, in the 10 years between when I met Bernice (her branch of the family left New York for Los Angeles in the 1950s, and she and my mother fell out of touch) and when she died, I never managed to be there in the two weeks the apricots were ready to pick. That's the thing about apricots, or maybe all stone fruit: When they're ready, they're all ready. When they're done, so long until next year.

The second apricot tree belongs to friends whose son goes to school with my boys. It stands next to two beloved fig trees which produce so much fruit each September that I often come home to find 10 pounds of soft, squishy figs in a grocery bag hanging from the front door handle. The apricot tree fruits heavily, but there are some very smart squirrels in their neighborhood. This year, by the time I called to ask whether the apricots were ready, the squirrels had won the war. Our friends went out to look for fruit and found piles of pits, picked perfectly clean, on the ground under the tree. Not one apricot left for the humans.

Lucky for me that a third apricot tree appeared this year. Two people who work in my office are renting a house with a dozen or more fruit trees. The apricot tree is in the front yard next to a Saturn peach tree. Both trees have been generous, and I've reaped most of the rewards, because the friends in the house neither make jam nor bake. They've invited me to pick as much fruit as I can use - and I've taken most of it, I think. The peaches disappeared quickly when the cousins were visiting. That week we also discovered that my niece, the Princess, adores apricots. She ate a dozen a day. These apricots have been sweet and juicy, firm giving way after a day or two to soft and luscious. They're almost done now, and I'm savoring each little one, because I know that once they're gone, it's another 50 weeks until they reappear.

We were invited to a cookout last weekend, and I brought a huge tray of these stuffed apricots. I was unprepared for the lavish praise they received. Apricots, a little cheese, a sprinkling of chopped nuts - simple. But then again, when the fruit is perfectly ripe, simpler is better.

Stuffed apricots
  • 15 fresh, ripe apricots, halved, pits removed
  • 2 ounces soft goat cheese
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup roasted salted pistachios, shelled and chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Arrange the apricot halves cut-side up on a large tray.

In a food processor or mini-chopper, blend the goat cheese, cream cheese, rosemary and lemon zest until the mixture is smooth. You want to make sure in particular that the rosemary has been chopped finely - there's nothing worse than biting down on a big stick of rosemary, in my book. Transfer the cheese mixture to a piping bag with a small star tip. Don't worry if you're less than proficient with a piping bag - me too - it won't matter once the apricots are done.

In the center of each apricot, pipe a mound of the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios (these hide any imperfections in your piping technique, and if you think I added them just for the flavor, you're mistaken). Dust with a healthy pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper. Serve and watch the smiles.

Note: I made these a few hours ahead and kept them at room temperature with no problem. If it had been a warmer day, I might have waited until the last minute.

Apricot on FoodistaApricot

Friday, July 2, 2010

Frozen sangria slush with berries

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I just whipped up the ultimate grownup beverage for the 4th of July: frozen sangria. All the delicious fruitiness of your favorite sangria, all the frosty summertime buzz of a frozen margarita. You won't believe how easy it is. And those antioxidants (from the blueberries)! That vitamin C (the strawberries)! Oh yes, this one is a keeper. I bet it would make a superb sorbet too...but that's tomorrow's project....

Frozen sangria with berries
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries, hulled (if you want to use fresh strawberries, clean and hull them, then stick them in the freezer in a plastic container for an hour)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 peach, cut into chunks
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 3 cups fruity white wine (I used a lovely Vouvray)
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
Put all ingredients in a blender and push the button. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.