Archived entries for fruit

Love makes you do the wacky: Blueberry pie.

Looking at my Con Ed bill, it’s hard to believe that technically, we’re still at least a couple of weeks away from the real dog days of summer. It is hot here, the sort of heat that renders asparagus limp and rubber-soled shoes sticky to touch. It’s the kind of weather that complicates my relationship with my kitchen; I love it dearly, I do, but I can’t bear the thought of a single second in its sticky embrace.

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Usually, this doesn’t present much of a problem–after all, there are plenty of delightful no-cook meals out there–but it does offer up a heavy dose of irony: it’s the perfect time of year to make fruit pie (berries! peaches!), and I can barely stomach the thought of turning on my oven. Combine that with the…complicated relationship that pie and I have cultivated, and you’re looking at a whole world of missed opportunity. At least, until recently.

Turns out, there is nothing on this green earth that Dr. Boyfriend enjoys so much as blueberry pie. And there are few things I enjoy so much as perfecting dishes that I know people love. Also, winning. Duh. Combine these three characteristics, and one thing becomes clear: I would master fruit pie. Oh yes.

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In order to achieve this, there were two problems I needed to overcome: first, I needed to find an idiotproof crust recipe. Second, I had to figure out how to keep the filling from being too runny–typically, my fillings collapse under the weight of their own deliciousness. Not a pretty sight. As I so often do in these situations, I turned to the internet. And hoo boy, internet, did you deliver.

First, I found what must be an utterly idiotproof crust recipe. Unsurprisingly, it came from Cook’s Illustrated. Surprisingly, it kind of recast everything I know about crust. Example: the dough that I set to rest in the refrigerator was very moist–kind of tacky, actually. It meant I had to flour my rolling surface heavily–which I’d been warned against doing in the past–an absolutely necessary step that somehow left the crust still tender and flaky (rumor has it that overflouring one’s crust makes it tough).

Second, I discovered the secret to a non-gelatinous, non-runny pie filling: quick-cook tapioca. I can’t really offer any further commentary, other than to say that this crazy ingredient achieves what flour, arrowroot, and cornstarch have all failed to conquer: it makes the filling cohesive, coherent, and not the least bit icktastic. Amazing.

All in all, the result was beyond what I’d hoped–I have a new crust recipe, and a newfound confidence in the kitchen. Also, someone for whom I’ll cheerfully turn on my oven in July. If that’s not winning, I don’t know what is.

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Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? I shall eat a peach pie.

I don’t think I can put it off any longer: I apparently need to enroll in Remedial Pie Crust 101. Try as I might, I just can’t seem to achieve the requisite amount of flaky tenderness that a truly magnificent pie deserves. Are my crusts delicious? Absolutely. But are they the apotheosis of pie? No. Not hardly. And it’s not for lack of trying–I’ve spun around the list of variables in all kinds of directions (pastry flour! No pastry flour! Whole Wheat Flour! High-fat Butter! Shortening! Vodka! Water! Ground nuts! Small children!), but I cannot seem to bend it to my will. Which is a tragedy–especially when dealing with the kind of filling I was mucking about with yesterday.

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You may have caught a word or two on my twitter feed the other day about the seductive capabilities of the peach; I am not ashamed to say I recently fell prey to it. I was headed over to Lady A’s apartment to hang out with her awesome kittens when I passed the 5th ave farmer’s market, and out of nowhere was caressed in a nearly inappropriate fashion by the luscious scent of peaches. I kid you not–the smell was so delightful, it skated dangerously close to the obscene. Before I could gather my wits, 9 perfect yellow peaches had smooth-talked their way into my bag; I was powerless to resist.

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After much deliberation, I decided that the finest tribute I could pay these peaches was to put them in a pie, and so I set about it. I ended up making a filling with a bit of sugar, warmed by the addition of some cinnamon and cardamom. So simple, and yet any further adornment would have been a slight upon the fruit; as it stood, the spices were an excellent pairing with the sweet, bright flesh. Together, they were delicious enough to stand up to the travesty of a crust I spent far too long clubbing into submission; imagine how lovely it will be when it is no longer a case of crust vs. filling!  Dare to dream, I say–and to ask the audience: anyone have any tips?

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A little tropical refreshment: Piña Colada Ice Pops

If you happened (hypothetically) to be visiting the Pacific Northwest in the last week of July, you may still be in shock. It can get that hot in Portland, and not everyone is prepared for it. The restaurants don’t all have air conditioning. The traffic lights got shorted out. We’re just lucky it didn’t last too long.

And we were lucky that my mother had the foresight to save a page of grown-up popsicle recipes from July’s Gourmet magazine. These piña colada ice pops were fresh and not too sweet. They were easy to whip up ahead of time, and made a fun finish to a spicy takeout Thai dinner we ate the night my brother’s family arrived.

If you can’t get a sweet ripe pineapple, you could probably use canned, but I suspect it wouldn’t be quite as good. In the future, I might add a tablespoon or two more rum to make sure you can taste it a little. Adding too much could keep them from freezing solid, though. Also, don’t be tempted to skip the straining step—getting lazy might mean you end up with quite a fibrous dessert.

If you don’t have popsicle molds handy, I hear you can use shot glasses or little jars as well.Dont worry, hers was just apple juice

Don’t worry, hers was just apple juice.

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You Salty Tart: Fresh Plum Tart with Goat Cheese and Walnut-Thyme Streusel


Salty desserts are all the rage. It seems we’re not satisfied anymore with simple sweets, we need them with smokey bacon! and Maldon salt! (And infused with the cereal-milk of our childhood dreams, but I haven’t tried that yet.)

This tart isn’t a brand-new invention, though—it’s from a 2003 Bon Appetit recipe. Anticipating the trend, I guess.

It’s a fun, light-feeling dessert, with a nutty crust and fresh, uncooked goat cheese and ricotta filling. If you wait for plums to be in season, you’ll get even tastier results. It’s quite impressive-looking, and doesn’t even require that you make pie crust!


The thing about salt in desserts, though, is that you have to be careful. One minute, you’re fun and edgy, but a few pinches of Maldon later, you’re serving pretzels with post-dinner coffee. So I’ve adjusted the salt a little in the recipe below. The sprinkle of Maldon or fleur de sel on top of the streusel is great, but the ricotta filling really didn’t need it.

Plum Tart with Goat Cheese and Walnut-Thyme Streusel
Adapted from Bon Appetit

For the crust
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup walnuts (about 2 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg yolk

For the streusel
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup walnuts (about 3 ounces)
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Filling and Topping
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
8 ounces (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

4 large plums (about 1 pound), halved, pitted, cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel (I used Maldon sea salt) for garnish

For crust:
Blend first 4 ingredients in processor until nuts are finely ground. If you don’t have a food processor, chop nuts finely and add first 4 ingredients to a large bowl, blending with a pastry blender. Add butter; blend until coarse meal forms. Add egg yolk; blend until moist clumps form. Press dough onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Cover; chill 1 hour.

For streusel:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Blend flour, walnuts, both sugars, coarse salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom in processor until nuts are finely ground. (or chop nuts and use pastry blender in a large bowl.) Add thyme and blend 5 seconds. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add butter. Using fingertips, rub in until small moist clumps form.

Spread streusel mixture on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes. Stir, then continue baking until golden brown, about 7 minutes longer. Cool streusel completely (mixture will become crisp).

For filling and topping:
Combine both cheeses, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon oil, sugar, nutmeg, and pepper in large bowl; stir to blend well. Refrigerate while baking crust.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line crust with foil; fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Continue to bake crust until golden brown, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 15 minutes longer. Cool crust completely.

Spread cheese filling in crust. Arrange plums in concentric circles atop filling, leaving 3/4-inch plain border. Sprinkle streusel lightly over tart. Refrigerate tart at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Remove pan sides; place tart on platter. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons honey and 2 tablespoons oil; sprinkle with fleur de sel. Cut tart into wedges.


Lady Marmalade: Blood Orange Marmalade

marmalade

So, you know how I’ve been going on and on about winter citrus and its restorative effects on the dying winter soul? Well, let me tell you. I have not been returning the favor–I’ve had a whole pile of Meyer lemons and blood oranges languishing in my refrigerator for weeks, barely hanging on to this mortal coil. It got to the point where my guilt was so significant that I embarked upon the unthinkable: I decided to make marmalade.

This was An Event for two major reasons:

  1. I’ve never made jam of any sort
  2. Despite being half English, I’ve never really had much of a taste for the stuff.

However! When one is talking wasted citrus, one must rise to the unexpected challenge! Or attempt to, anyway. I’ll admit it: it took me a few tries to get this one right. I didn’t have a real recipe to work with, and I’d never worked with pectin; I also failed to properly measure the amount of fruit I was using, so I ended up with marmalade soup at the end of the first cooking. Cooking it twice, while probably not ideal, didn’t seem to hurt the concoction too much. If anything, I think it may have intensified the citrus flavor.

Things I learned:

  • Using only the zest of the orange (discarding the pith and most of the rind) cut the bitterness factor significantly while still allowing the extreme…well…citrusness of the fruit to really shine.
  • Marmalade is far more delicious than I’d given it credit for (though, admittedly, my marmalade may not be…well…traditional.)
  • Many marmalade recipes call for a metric shedload of sugar. I believe that if you boil longer, you can get a similar effect without as much. I mean, 7 cups? Really?
  • Canning and jarring and jamming is nowhere near as daunting as I’d once thought. All you need are a big pot, a pair of tongs, a spatula (for getting the filled jars in and out) and a good book to read while you stir the pot.

oranges

Blood orange marmalade

8 Whole blood oranges.
3 Meyer lemons, sliced thinly
4c sugar
Pectin (I used one pouch of Certo brand liquid pectin, by Sure-jell)

  1. Remove the outer layer of zest from the orange (if you want the marmalade texture, do this with a vegetable peeler; if you’re lazy like me, you can use your microplane), taking care not to get too much of the bitter white layer beneath. Set the zest aside.
  2. Peel the oranges and then slice them thinly and chop them roughly. remove any tough pith or seeds that you encounter, but save as much of the juice as you can!
  3. Put the oranges and lemons in a deep saucepan; add the pectin and let sit for a moment.
  4. Add the zest.
  5. Add the sugar and then bring the contents of the pan up to a boil. Boil, boil, boil away (stirring as much as you can reasonably bear) merrily until it’s thick, syrupy, and passes the spoon test.

To preserve your marmalade:

  1. Get a bunch of canning jars.
  2. Wash them in hot, soapy water
  3. Boil them mercilessly for about 15 minutes, then remove them from the pot.
  4. Ladle your marmalade into your clean, sterilized jars. Gently seal the tops and boil them at a rollicking, high temperature (with at least 1 inch of water covering them) for 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the jars in there until the water is lukewarm (I tend to leave the jars in the waterbath overnight). This should activate the vacuum seal on the jar, characterized by the sort of dip in the middle. If you don’t have a vacuum seal by the time the water cools, remove the jar and try again with a new lid.


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