Preposterously Perfect Peach and Blueberry Pie

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There are a select few fruits that have a solid, unwavering, and permanent  – if not slightly terrifyingly obsessive  – grip on my heart strings.

Peaches are one of them. Continue reading

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BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches with Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread: The Best You Never Had

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So, let’s have it. Let’s hear every mistakenly negative thought you have pondered about “vegetarian” foods.

Firstly – may I say that many a people will have, at one point, may have thought I was a food snob. I violently disagree. You would shudder to hear me enumerate the fast food joints I lust over on a daily basis. I can get down and dirty with the worst of them.

Anyways, my point is – food is food. Vegetarian, unhealthy, too processed, carnivorous, paleo, gluten-free, keto and any other bullshit label you may have for food is unnecessary. Let us, instead, marvel at this wide and wondrous world of edible enticements and how lucky we are to have access to even half the food we do. All food in moderation is key (in my opinion). Food is magical. Food is all you need. Food.

I’ll get off my soap box now.

Just try it. It’s a great bbq pork substitute if you’re trying to cater to a picky vegetarian or just to serve as is. Put your adult underwear on and get over any prejudices you may have. This is just plain good.

Plus, this recipe has the added bonus of being fast to prepare. You’ll be ready to eat before the first excuse of why you shouldn’t cook even begins to form in your mind.

BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches

If you’ve never had jackfruit before, it’s a fruit native to southeast Asia. You can buy it fresh and canned. The ripe, sweet version tastes somewhat like a heavenly cross between a mango and a lychee. Here, we will be using the young, unripe version that is canned in brine. You can find this cheaply at any Asian or ethnic grocery store.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 20oz cans of young, green jackfruit in brine

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For the BBQ Sauce:

  • 1 chipotle pepper plus 1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce it is canned with
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup of ketchup
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 6-7 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup water or chicken stock

For the Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread:

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  • 1/2 cup of creamed corn (canned)
  • 1/2 a medium onion sliced thinly
  • 3-4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tblsps of honey
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Buns for building your sandwich. (I used those Hawaiian sweet rolls- the hamburger bun version. If you can, definitely use those as your buns. The sweetness of the bread makes the sandwich.)

The Jackfruit:

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  1. Drain the canned jackfruit  in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Chop off the tough, middle core of each chunk.
  2. In a food processor, blend all of your ingredients for the bbq sauce together.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on a medium heat. Put in the drained and cored jackfruit in the pain and saute until the jackfruit browns a little, about 1-2 minutes of cooking.
  4. Pour the bbq sauce over the browned jackfruit and lower the heat to medium low and let simmer for about 35 minutes, or until the bbq sauce has reduced to about a fourth of the original volume.  Stir occasionally and break up the jackfruit as you stir so that it resembles pulled pork. The jackfruit will soak up all that saucy goodness. When finished, set aside.

For the Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread

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  1. While the jackfruit is simmering gloriously away, you can start on your corn and onion spread.
  2. In a skillet,  heat 3 tablespoons of oil at a medium-low heat. Put your thinly-sliced onions in the skillet with 1/4 a teaspoon of salt.
  3. Stir onions around constantly, making sure they do not burn in the pan. After about 10-12 minutes, the onions will be translucent and begin to darken to a brown in color. Make sure to constantly stir and scrape the bottom of your pan with your spatula to get up all those good, onion-y bits. If you see the onions beginning to dry out or burn, add 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. You may add more balsamic vinegar later if you feel the need to.
  4. Near the 20-30 minute mark, the onions should be darker in color and will be done.
  5. In a food processor, put the honey, the creamed corn, a pinch of salt and pepper and the caramelized onions and blend together until a you have a well-blended, semi-lumpy spread. Contradiction of terms? Yes, I know. But corn kernels can be resistant to being completely pureed. This is okay. It still tastes beautiful.

Now, I understand that if you have never made caramelized onions before that the idea of spending anywhere NEAR 30 minutes stirring a pan of onions seems ludicrous. Especially after I prefaced this recipe as a “quick” one. Truth be told, you’re waiting and stirring the simmering pan of jackfruit in the bbq sauce and you might as well make an awesome sandwich spread while you wait.

Also – if you think caramelized onions are not worth the work, I don’t know if we can be friends.

Just kidding. We totally can. But, if you think the Lord of the Rings movies are too long, I can’t forgive you.

The Sandwich:

Do yourself a favor and butter and toast your sandwich buns.

Spread the corn spread generously. Heap the bbq jackfruit to the heavens, throw some pickles on there and plant your face into that sandwich.

Food and Movies: Labor Day and a Blueberry Honey Ricotta Tart

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I know – it’s a weird choice for a movie associated with food. The actual plot line has nothing to do with food. Food certainly makes an appearance and it’s a memorable one, in my opinion.

If you haven’t seen the movie, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin star in a strange story in which Kate is coerced into taking escaped convict Josh Brolin home with her so that he might hide out for a bit from the cops. Brolin is immediate and straightforward about his intentions not to harm Winslet and her son. He, in turn, offers to do things around the house  while he hides there for the night. Winslet and her son grow an odd attachment to Brolin (borderline Stockholm Syndrome…) and make excuses for him to stay throughout the Labor Day weekend.

Where food comes in to this story is when Brolin makes a few dishes for Winslet and her son as repayment for their cooperation. One distinct scene is where he teaches the both of them about pie-making. He is adamant that clean hands are a cook’s best tool and crust ingredients must be kept cold. It is clear that this pie-making exercise further sparks an attraction between Brolin and Winslet’s characters. With his gentle but direct guidance, he helps Kate’s character proceed assertively in handling the ripe peaches. He coaxes her to have confidence in shaping the pie crust. His fingertips graze hers and she is lost in an ethereal and sensual pie-making endeavor.

Sex and food? A combination that has endured through the ages. Don’t act surprised. Food and sex share so many inherent qualities, how could they not be thrown together? The full activation of senses and the instant gratification and pleasure from both acts of eating and intercourse are one in the same.

Pie was never so sexy until this scene:

With all this pie-talk, of COURSE I had to make some pie – or rather, some semblance of a pie.

Josh and Kate inspired me to make a Blueberry, Honey, Ricotta Tart.

WAIT. I know. You think ricotta is only for lasagna? Psshhh, please. You just don’t know what worlds I’m about to open for you.

Rarely do I preface a recipe in terms of difficulty. I never want to scare anyone away from making delicious food. So let me say this: there are three parts to this pie. DON’T BE DAUNTED. It’s worth it. You are the conqueror of worlds. You’ve totally got this. Plus – in the end, you get to enjoy a dessert that is rich and simultaneously light. The ricotta custard does not sit heavily in your stomach and the slight touch of orange in the creamy base will make your head foggy with delight. The tartness of the blueberry jam is softened by the inclusion of fresh blueberries.

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Part 1: The Crust 

Part 2: The Beautiful, Blueberry Compote

Part 3: The Ricotta Custard Base

I firmly believe, as a home cook who is always looking to improve and learn different methods, that there are some recipes that just TEACH us things. This is one of those recipes. Roll your sleeves up and let’s do this.

The Crust:

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 Cup of Flour
  • 1 stick (8 tblsps) of butter, kept very cold and cut into cubes
  • 1/3 cup of ice water
  • 1/2 tsp of salt

(Makes one tart crust.)

Mix the salt into the ice water, set aside. (If you do not have an ice-maker at home or any available ice when you start this, I highly suggest you put this water and salt mixture in the freezer as you work the dough. The fact that it is ICE-COLD is incredibly important)

In a large bowl, put your flour and cold butter in and begin to work the butter into the flour. Use the pads of your thumbs and fingers to press and work the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles course crumbs.

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Once your mixture looks like course crumbs, pour the ice water/salt mixture one tablespoon at a time into the flour and butter until it just barely comes together in the bowl.

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Tip the contents of the bowl out onto a cutting board or whatever surface you prefer. Form into a ball and cover the ball in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, flour your surface (lightly! don’t add too much flour or it will make the dough tough) and, with a rolling pin, roll out your dough to about 1/8 of an inch thin and gently press it into your greased and floured tart dish or pie dish. Cut off excess pie dough (and at this point I always put that excess pie dough in a small baking dish, sprinkle sugar over it and bake it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. I devour the sugared pie crust pieces as I work.)

Put the tart crust back in the fridge while you make your Blueberry Compote.

Part 2: The Beautiful, Blueberry Compote

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 pint of fresh blueberries (12oz total. I bought two 6oz containers at the grocery store)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Pinch of Cinnamon
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 heaping tsp of cornstarch
  • 3 tblsp of cold tap water

In a medium saucepan, put half the amount of blueberries,  the sugar, honey, lemon juice salt and cinnamon and bring to a boil.

Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat to a low-medium simmer. Let the sauce simmer and reduce for 10-11 minutes, reducing the liquid by about a third.

At the end of ten minutes, make a slurry – mix the cornstarch and cold water together and stir into the blueberry sauce and let it cook for 1-2 more minutes until the mixture thickens closer to a jam-like consistency.

Pour the thickened mixture in a bowl and set aside to let cool. Save the other half of the fresh blueberries for when the jam mixture has cooled. Work on the Ricotta Custard Base (YOU’RE ALMOST THERE. SOON YOU WILL EAT THE MOST GLORIOUS OF TARTS)

The Ricotta Custard Base:

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 Large Egg Yolks
  • 1 1/3 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 tblsps of orange juice
  • 1 tsp of orange zest

Preheat your oven to 350.

Set up a double boiler. Fill a medium saucepan a third of the way with water. Bring the water to a soft simmer and set a heat-proof bowl ( I always use a glass bowl) on top of the sauce pan.

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Put in your egg yolks, sugar and honey. Using a whisk, whisk the egg yolk mixture until the soft heat of the double boiler turns your egg yolks frothy and a pale yellow color. The consistency will be thick and creamy. The volume of the mixture will also increase slightly. This process will take 3-5 minutes. Do not walk away from this part. Your eggs will curdle so fast it’ll give you whiplash, if you neglect it.

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Once the eggs have become thick and creamy, take it off the double boiler and whisk in your orange juice, zest, and vanilla extract. Then gently fold in your ricotta cheese.

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All Together Now:

At this stage – take your tart crust out of the fridge and, with a fork, poke a few holes in the bottom of the crust so it doesn’t bake unevenly. Pour your ricotta mixture into the crust and bake in the pre-heated oven (350 degrees) for 16-18 minutes.

You will know that the custard is ready to come out of the oven if you give it a slight shake. The perimeter (the area of custard closest to the crust) will be firm and not jiggle. The middle will still jiggle slightly. There shouldn’t be too much color on top of the custard. It should still be a pale-yellow.

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Let the custard cool to room temperature (or if you’re impatient like me – you can stick it in the freezer to expedite the process).

Meanwhile, fold the rest of the fresh blueberries into the cooled blueberry compote.

Once the custard base has cooled, spread the blueberry mixture on top. It will seem like you’re struggling to cover the top of the tart with the blueberry compote but it will be enough. A little goes a long way here.

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Cut your slices wide, pour some coffee or tea to go with it, sit and relax your shoulders, breathe, and devour. In that order.

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What you learned:

Crust: EVERYTHING MUST BE COLD. I can’t stress that enough. The success and the flakiness of your crust will depend entirely on the coldness of the butter in the dough.

Compote: Lemon juice is key to bring out the flavors of the fruit. Without it, you would be left with a dull semblance of your sapphire blueberries.

Custard: It’s not that hard. It’s not that scary! Also, learning the double boiler method will set you up for  many other desserts. Specifically – tiramisu. Because – good lord, how can you not love tiramisu.

Flank Steak: Friend or Foe?

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Let it be known that steak has always been my foe.

I am too impatient, too volatile, too wild. To me, life cannot be contained by meat thermometers and timers! It’s oppressive!

Honestly, I’m just a whiny baby who overcooks or under-cooks expensive cuts of meat. I never learned to tame my internal chaos and it’s reflected in my mastery (or lack thereof) of meat.

BUT. I have found the answer. Talk to your butcher. Listen to his sage advice. His hands may be calloused from handling heavy carcasses but he has a gentle soul and even gentler touch. He knows how to tend to meat.

My wonderful, amazing, kind, happy butcher told me a few key things:

  • Get your pan hot. As hot as your cheeks get when a beautiful man (or woman) breathes on your neck. (Aka: medium-high heat)
  • For a two pound piece of meat, like I bought, it’s a hot sear for 6-7 minutes on each side for medium, medium-rare.  And, listen, I’m not a judgmental person but if you prefer your steak cooked more than medium, I need you to understand what utter blasphemy you are committing. RESPECT THE MEAT.
  • Oil the meat well. Not the pan. Heating a pan full of oil to such a temperature is just begging for a visit from the fire department. Trust me, I have set many a smoke alarms off.
  • Always cut against the grain. There are lines of muscle and sinew that run along the length of the meat that, if you cut along it, will make it impossible to chew and completely unpleasant to eat. You want it to cut and chew like Paula Deen’s favorite ingredient, BUTTER.
  • Something else that the butcher did not impart to me but I found to be pivotal in cooking a steak: do not skimp on the salt. Crust that beast with salt and pepper. Massage it as you would a lover. Don’t be a prude.

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Why is it, when discussing meat, that the conversation always feels semi-inappropriate? Maybe it’s just me and I’m a twelve-year-old about it.