When Cara asked me to guest post and offered the suggestion of focusing on a vacation that I’m excited about, I jumped at the chance to chatter to a new audience about my upcoming trip to Italy. Italy! Venice! The Cinque Terre! Tuscany! Rome! And then there’s the stuff that I’m really excited about – wine and espresso and cheese and pesto and bread and seafood. Also wine. Check out Cara’s blog to read about the Baked Eggs in Mushrooms with Zucchini Ragout I made, which involves no wine or espresso or pesto or bread or seafood. At least there’s cheese.
Dave enjoys and then forgets the vast majority of what I give him to eat. And how not to? I make so many different things that even I’m surprised sometimes when I scan through old unused pictures (two types of cucumber salad? orange-glazed tofu? raspberry muffins? The pictures prove I made these things, but I don’t remember any of it).
But once in a while, I make something that stands out to Dave enough to not only remember it, but request it again and again, even years later. I hadn’t made this pie in two years, but once berries start to come into season, Dave starts asking about it.
Often, fresh fruit pies are associated with the gel-shellacked versions you get in buffet lines. This pie replaces that gel with the barest coating of fruit jelly, which gives the fruit a beautiful shine without adding any flavorless goo. Instead, a layer of fruit puree holds the filling together while intensifying the bright berry flavor. With ripe sweet berries and a dollop of freshly whipped cream, it’s no wonder this dessert is so memorable.
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Summer Berry Pie (from Cooks Illustrated)
Serves 8 to 10
Currant jelly is smooth and bright red, so very attractive in this pie. However, I didn’t want to buy it because I don’t use it for anything else. I used raspberry jam, which I probably should have strained but didn’t.
5 ounces graham crackers, broken into rough pieces (9-11 full crackers)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and warm
2 cups (about 9 ounces) fresh raspberries
2 cups (about 11 ounces) fresh blackberries
2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh blueberries
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons red currant jelly
1 cup heavy cream (cold)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, process the graham crackers until evenly fine, about 30 seconds. You should have one cup of crumbs. Add the sugar; pulse to combine. Continue to pulse while adding the warm melted butter in a steady stream; pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie plate; use the bottom of a ramekin or measuring cup to press the crumbs evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, 15 to 18 minutes; transfer to wire rack and cool completely while making the filling.
2. FOR THE FILLING: Combine the berries in a large colander and gently rinse; spread the berries on towel-lined rimmed baking sheet and gently pat dry with additional towels.
3. In a food processor, puree 2½ cups of the mixed berries until smooth and fully pureed, about 1 minute. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer into small nonreactive saucepan, scraping and pressing on seeds to extract as much puree as possible (you should have 1¼ to 1½ cups). Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl to combine, then whisk the mixture into the puree. Bring the puree to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon; when the mixture reaches a boil and is thickened to consistency of pudding, remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool slightly.
4. While the puree is cooling, place the remaining berries in a medium bowl. Heat the jelly in a second small saucepan over low heat until fully melted; drizzle the melted jelly over the berries and gently toss them together until the berries are glazed. Pour the slightly cooled puree into the cooled pie shell and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Distribute the glazed berries evenly over the puree and gently press into the surface. Loosely cover pie with plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled and the puree has set, about 3 hours (or up to 1 day).
5. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Add the cream, sugar, and vanilla to the chilled bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until the cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 seconds for soft peaks or about 30 seconds for stiff peaks. If necessary, finish beating by hand to adjust the consistency.
Dave and I have fun during the winter teasing his family in Ohio about how while they’re bundling up and shoveling snow, we’re sitting outside drinking margaritas. They curse us, and then I try to temper this obnoxiousness by claiming that we’ll pay the price in the summer.
But I’m not sure we will. We have a good system for dealing with the heat. It involves a kiddie pool full of water to dip our feet in, frequent breaks to come inside and cool off (the perfect time to prep dinner), and, of course, margaritas.
I suspect that summer in the desert will be particularly awesome, and not just because of the heat that we love. There are also tomatoes, corn on the cob, and blueberries so cheap the stores are almost giving them away. Mostly I’ve been eating them straight, as the best snack you could ever ask for, but I’m never against adding my favorite fruits into dessert either. But as soon as the cake is baked, I’m heading back outside with my margarita.
Cindy chose this cake for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I doubled the salt and used a 9×9-inch pan instead of 7×11-inch. I originally had some ideas of things I might tweak for next time, but to be honest, as good as this cake was, I’ve had other blueberry cakes that I like more.
The best part of barbecuing a whole pork shoulder on the grill is that you are forced to spend all day outside tending the grill. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a Saturday. We started the grill before breakfast, then spent the rest of the day in the backyard. First we drank coffee, then some water because you have to to survive, even on weekends, and then it was time for afternoon margaritas, and then we capped it off with beer, because what else are you going to drink with pulled pork?
The truth is that while you do need to keep a constant-ish eye on the grill, you don’t need to spend much time actually doing anything with it. Once the pork is cooking, it takes just a couple of seconds every hour or so to add a handful of fresh coals. A thermometer is key to monitor the temperature, although a cheap oven thermometer – which is what I used – will work just fine. And if you do find the temperature varying widely, it won’t ruin your pork; just let it slowly come down to the right temperature range or add more coals to bring it up and continue cooking. Cooking a whole pork shoulder on the grill is a simple and forgiving process, even if it does take a long time.
I know the question everyone is asking: Is it really better than crockpot pulled pork? Well, of course it is. Crockpot pulled pork, especially using the same spice rub, is incredible – flavorful, tender, and easy easy easy. Barbecued pulled pork isn’t as moist and as a result, its flavor seems more concentrated. It’s still easy to pull, but it has more chew than crockpot pulled pork, which can get mushy if you’re not careful. The biggest difference were the outside bits of the roast, which were deeply browned and crisp. (This is not the same thing as the blackened top in the photo below, which is a thick layer of fat that I discarded.) Dave and I filled up on those while I was still shredding the roast. But the best part of making pulled pork on the grill as opposed to in the crockpot is that while one method frees you up to do chores and run errands all day, the other keeps you in the backyard with a book and a beer.
One year ago: Home Corned Beef and Corned Beef Hash
Two years ago: Orange Oatmeal Currant Cookies
Three years ago: Hash Browns with Sauteed Vegetables and Poached Eggs
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Barbecued Pulled Pork (spice rub from Cooks Illustrated)
Serves a lot
The least messy way I’ve found to add the spices to the meat is to line a rimmed baking sheet with a large piece of plastic wrap. Set the pork on the plastic wrap; add the spice rub, rotating the meat to rub all sides. Wrap the plastic wrap around the meat, then wrap another layer of plastic around in the opposite direction.
I use all of the spice rub on one roast, but if you think it’ll be too much, save half for another use. It’ll keep in the pantry for months.
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
1 (6-8 pound) bone-in pork shoulder
1. Combine all of the ingredients in the spice rub. At least one day, and up to three days, before cooking the pork, rub the spice rub onto all sides of the pork (see note). Wrap the pork in a double layer of plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or up to three days.
2. About 10 hours before you plan to serve the pork, remove it from the refrigerator; let it set at room temperature for 1 hour. Meanwhile, soak 4 wood chunks (or 4 cups of wood chips) in water for an hour.
3. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to grill, light about 30 charcoal briquettes (half a chimney starter). Once the coals are covered with a layer of ash, dump them into a pile on one side of the grill, then top with ¼ of the wood chunks or chips. Open the bottom vents completely. Place the meat, fat side up, on a double layer of aluminum foil with the edges folded up or in a 9×13-inch disposable aluminum baking pan. Place the meat on the side of the grill opposite the coals. Put the lid on the grill with the vents opposite the coals; adjust vents to be ¾ open.
4. Use a grill or oven thermometer to monitor the temperature of the grill, which should remain between 200 and 250 degrees. Add fresh coals, about 8 every hour, when the temperature drops. Add more wood chips an hour after you start cooking, then again at the 2- and 3-hour mark. (Don’t worry if the top of the meat blackens; you’ll discard that layer of fat anyway.)
5. After about 5 hours, when the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165 degrees, wrap it completely in foil. Continue cooking until the internal temperature of the pork is 195 degrees, another 2-3 hours.
6. Remove the pork from the grill and let it set at room temperature, covered, for one hour.
7. Place the pork on a large rimmed baking sheet. Remove and discard the thick layer of fat. Use your fingers or forks to shred the remaining meat. Serve.
I’ve struggled with September the last few years. I’m never ready to give up summer, but I can’t deny the signs of impending fall either. Tomatoes are just starting to come into their own in September, and there are still peaches, although the berries are gone and you can’t depend on corn anymore.
Down here in the desert, you actually can deny the signs of fall in September. Our high temperatures are still in the 90s. I won’t be making chili and cornbread for a while yet, and I certainly don’t think I’ll be able to find cranberries. The peaches, however, are ripe and fragrant.
You know what makes good peaches better? Cake. Especially cake with a little bit of cinnamon and whole lot of butter. This was good with late summer peaches, and, I think for once, I’m looking forward to the fall version of something, in this case with cranberries, even more.
Sabrina chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. You’ll need about two peaches, peeled and pitted, to replace the cranberries. Dorie recommends skipping the nuts for the peach version, but I enjoyed a few sliced almonds. Peaches are sweeter than cranberries; I recommend reducing the sugar in the glaze to 4 tablespoons if you make this substitution.
It’s green chile season! My sister recently told me that, for her, fall in New Mexico means green chiles roasting, the state fair, and the Balloon Fiesta. Fall isn’t so bad out here, even without rolling hills of trees that turn brown, red, pink, maroon, orange, yellow. I will miss the crisp air, pumpkins, apples, and chill days of fall on the East coast, but when I was out there, I missed green chile. So I win either way.
The only problem is that I tend to get into a hoarding pattern with my annual green chile supply. I buy them every fall when they come into season, roast them, and freeze them to last until the following September. And then, aside from the occasional huevos rancheros, I mostly ignore them, because what if I run out? This is a mindset I’m determined to get out of. Not only is that not the kind of life I want to lead, but, as Jen warns, they seem to get hotter as they’re frozen for longer periods.
This corn salad doesn’t even call for green chile, but I had some leftover from the previous day’s burgers, so I went ahead and added them. They’ve been in the freezer for about a year, and maybe that’s why the dish ended up so, um, kind of painful to eat, actually. The heat was somewhat dulled by the dairy in the recipe, and once I smooshed the corn into a tortilla with some flank steak, it was downright edible. Not that the corn even needed extra flavor, what with having been grilled and mixed with chili powder, cilantro, lime juice and salty cotija. But I need to use up some of these chiles in my freezer to make room for the new crop!
I used a not-nonstick skillet on the stove instead of a cast iron pan on the grill, and I substituted greek yogurt for the crème fraiche. And I added an ounce or two of very spicy diced Hatch green chiles, plus some diced red pepper and red onion.
8 ears fresh corn, silks removed, husk on, soaked in cold water 30 minutes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup creme fraiche
2 limes, juiced and 1 zested
1 tablespoons ancho chili powder
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup grated cotija cheese
1. Heat grill to high. Grill corn until charred on all sides, 10 or so minutes. Take off the grill and remove the kernels with a sharp knife. While you are cutting the corn, put a cast iron skillet on the grill to heat.
2. Add the corn and the remaining ingredients to the hot pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until creamy and heated through. Serve.
It’s hot. Usually at this time of year, I’m glaring at everyone who is eating chili and baking pumpkin treats and looking forward to fall, wondering how anyone could possibly want to move on from the sunny days of summer. But now it’s too hot, and I just want a few days where the high temperatures are below 90 degrees. Below 90…that’s all I ask.
On the other hand, I’m not ready to give up summer food! I haven’t had anywhere near my fill of stone fruits, berries, and tomatoes. I’m lucky that Rachel’s choice for Tuesdays with Dorie this week gave me a chance to use peaches. You can’t go wrong with a good summer peach.
In this case, those summer peaches were sliced, spread over tart dough, covered in rich custard, and dotted with streusel. All of those extra textures and flavors just enhanced the perfection of the peaches. Unfortunately, it involved an hour and a half of oven time. Delicious though it was, perhaps I wouldn’t need yet another cooling shower right now if we’d eaten the peaches plain…
Rachel has this recipe posted on her blog. I think I undercooked mine. It was still very juicy, and the streusel wasn’t browned. On the other hand, the tart crust was getting too dark, and the custard seemed curdled. I don’t know the answer, although perhaps one isn’t necessary, as we certainly weren’t complaining about the tart as it was.
Last year I said, “You know what always makes me twitchy? Hearing people talk about how they just have sooo many zucchini or tomatoes or whatever from their garden.”
Squeeeee!!!! And now I am one of those people! I am I am I am I am!!!
Okay, sort of. I have hundreds of tomatoes growing, but they won’t. turn. red. Aaargh! I only had enough green beans for one meal, but it looks like there will be a steady supply of jalapenos and chile peppers starting soon. I wouldn’t say that I get more zucchini than I know what to do with – my single plant offers about one squash per week (after being suitably sexed up of course), which is just right for us.
And it’s just right in this dish. When I’m cooking something on the grill, it always makes more sense to me to make the whole meal on the grill. It can be difficult to find interesting grilled side dishes though. I had made grilled potatoes and grilled vegetables many times before, but mixing the two together and adding dressing to make a salad was more fun than eating them separately. It’s a perfect side for so many meat dishes, and it’s the perfect way to use my one zucchini per week.
Serves 4 to 6
You can also try microwaving the oiled potatoes in a covered bowl for a few minutes before grilling, if you’re concerned about the centers cooking all the way through. Sometimes I do this; sometimes I don’t.
2 pounds asparagus, red onions, mushrooms, summer squash, and/or red peppers
8 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, sliced ½-inch thick
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (such as parsley, chives, and/or basil)
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1. Prepare the vegetables – trim the asparagus; cut the onions into ½-inch slices, keeping the rings together; leave the mushrooms whole; cut the squash on a bias into half-inch slices; cut the bottom and top off the peppers and cut the middle section in half length-wise. Season the vegetables and potatoes with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil.
2. Whisk the lemon juice, shallot, herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the extra virgin olive oil.
3. Prepare a grill to medium heat. Lay the vegetables in a single layer on the rack and grill until browned and tender, about 8 minutes per side for potatoes, 6 minutes per side for peppers and onions, 4 minutes per side for mushrooms and squash.
4. Chop the cooked vegetables and potatoes into ½-inch cubes; place them in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I didn’t realize how sexual plants were until I started growing zucchini. Concerned that my plants weren’t being pollinated, I did some research and found that to hand-pollinate zucchini, all you have to do is rub the male flower’s pistil on the female’s stigma.
But how to tell the difference between male and female flowers? Well, you learned this when you were five – boys and girls have, ah, visibly different parts, and the zucchini flowers’ parts are surprisingly similar to humans’. Or maybe I just have a dirty mind. You be the judge.
Pistils and stigmas aside, female flowers have a mini zucchini as a stem, and males have a normal stem. This is important, because if you’re going to fry zucchini flowers, and you should if you have them available, you want to fry the males of course, and leave the females behind to form zucchini. But not before sacrificing a male to rub over the female, in a deliberate act of zucchini rape.
To further abuse your zucchini flowers, cut the males off (ouchy), pry them open, stuff them with cheese, batter, and fry them. It’s kind of like mozzarella sticks, except even crisper and more flavorful because the mozzarella was marinated in garlicky olive oil. It’s almost better than sex – at least zucchini sex.
Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (adapted from How to Read a French Fry, by Russ Parsons)
I used regular (not fresh) mozzarella because it’s all I had. It worked just fine, but I definitely think fresh would be even better.
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 24 pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ – 1 cup water
2 quarts vegetable oil for deep-frying
24 zucchini flowers (about 1 pound), washed and dried
1. In a medium bowl, combine the cheese, garlic, crushed red pepper, olive oil, and a healthy pinch of both salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour and enough water to form a thin, smooth batter with the thickness of heavy cream.
3. In large pot, heat the vegetable oil to 375 degrees. While the oil heats, use a finger to pry open each flower; stuff a piece of mozzarella inside, then twist the petals together to close the flower around the cheese.
4. Dip the blossoms in the batter; let excess batter drip off, then place the blossoms in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown on both sides, 4-5 minutes. Fry only 4-6 blossoms at a time, carefully monitoring the oil temperature so it remains between 350 and 375 degrees. Drain the fried blossoms on a paper towel-lined plate. Salt lightly and serve immediately.
The rest of the country (hemisphere, I suppose) is gearing up for summer. Here in the desert though, we’ve been there for a while. This weekend Dave and I hiked over seven miles in 90 degree weather. It’s a dry heat though! (Actually, the hike wasn’t bad at all – it was either shady or windy the whole time, so although we were hot, we weren’t dying. And the dry heat does make a difference.)
Ice cream pie is perfect for the weather we’ve been having. The specific ingredients called for here aren’t perfect for me though. I eat so many bananas as snacks that the idea of adding them to chocolate ice cream for dessert didn’t sound appealing. Strawberries, however, can be added to most any dessert.
Oh, except maybe not one that’s going to be stored in the freezer like this. Sliced strawberries between the crust and the ice cream turned into ice cubes in the freezer; I should have given them a dip in vodka before freezing them to keep them from freezing so solidly. Other than that, what’s not to love about this dessert? I don’t need to tell you that chocolate ice cream and strawberries are a tempting combination – especially when it’s a hundred degrees out.