Sunday, August 30, 2009

You're a Peach

The other day, someone from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture knocked on my door and said, "You have to learn to make a peach cobbler or get out. It's a requirement for residency." So I did and I gave him a bowlful. He's letting me stay.

Okay, that's not really what happened. But, as a relative newcomer, I am learning that North Carolinians take their cobblers pretty seriously. Especially peach. Especially when served with barbecue.

Here's the real story about my cobbler. Last weekend, I went to the farmer's market for corn. That was it. But then, once I got there, I got all farmer's markety. Ooh, peppers! Yes, please! And peaches! (Here's a secret -- don't tell that guy from the Department of Agriculture. I don't even like peaches! They're furry! Fruit has no right being furry.) The lady selling them was so wholesome looking, and the little girl on her hip was calling me ma'am and the balsa wood baskets the peaches sat in were so square. So I bought a few, fur and all. Unfortunately, I did not get to take the basket home with me. I just put my purchases in my Liberty Graphics canvas market tote bag (made with organic cotton -- a farmer's market must).

When I returned home and fell out of my farmer's market fog, I was left with a question: what am I going to do with these peaches.

As it often does, Cook's Illustrated provided the answer, this time in the form of a recipe for peach cobbler.

The thing I like best about Cook's Illustrated is that it gives the backstory to recipe creation, so you know what works and what doesn't. For instance, a cookie-like crust for this cobbler was found too sweet, so the author opted for a nice biscuit topping. Heavily sweetened peaches tasted like they came from a can, so the recipe calls for just a quarter-cup of sugar.

In the end, I think my only problem was that the peaches weren't quite ripe. The sweet biscuit topping was tender and just sweet enough, and the peaches cooked without becoming mushy. I'd recommend you give this one a try. With fresh peaches. Farmer's market and organic cotton tote bag are optional.

Peach Cobbler (from Cook's Illustrated)

For the filling:
  • 2 1/2 c. ripe, firm peaches, peeled
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 t. cornstarch
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
For the biscuit topping:
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3 T. plus 1 t. sugar
  • 3/4 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 5 T. cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/3 c. plain yogurt (I used sour cream instead)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Half the peeled peaches, scoop the pits and red flesh from the centers and cut each half into four slices. Toss the peaches and 1/4 c. sugar in a large bowl and allow to sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After 30 minutes, drain the peaches in a colander set over a bowl. Reserve 1/4 c. of the juice, whisking it with the cornstarch, lemon juice and salt. Toss mixture with peach slices, then pour into an 8x8 baking dish. Bake for about 10 minutes.

While the peaches are baking, whisk together the flour, 3 T. sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender, blend in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add yogurt (or sour cream) and mix until just combined. (Overmixing will lead to tough biscuits.)

Remove peaches from oven. Roughly shape six biscuits and place them over the peaches, leaving at least a half-inch between biscuits (to keep the biscuits from being gluey). Sprinkle biscuits with the remaining sugar. Bake until biscuits are golden brown, about 16 to 18 minutes. Cool slightly; serve warm.

The food: Peach cobbler
The verdict: The N.C. Department of Agriculture says you must make it

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Birthday Treat Turns Sour

When I asked Ben what he wanted for a birthday cake, he suggested lemon bars instead. "Remember those ones you made a long time ago? Those were my favorite thing you've ever made." Which would be a really lovely compliment, had the bars in question not come straight from a Krusteaz box.

Determined to outdo those pesky Krusteaz folks, I set about whipping up my own lemon bars, this batch with a shortbread crust, an extra special cheesecake layer and a fresh-lemon curd.

The crust and the cheesecake were no problem. But I got the numbers mixed up in my head while making the curd, thinking I needed three-quarters of a cup of lemon juice and one-quarter of a cup of water. Three reamed lemons later, I discovered it was the other way around. But not before I'd put all the juice in with the eggs and sugar.

Needless to say, these bars pack a real pucker. The cheesecake layer helps balance that out. I also read somewhere that you can mix whipped cream into fruit curd to make it lighter in texture -- this probably would have helped with my pucker problem, too. And it would have been the yum.

Overall, I think this will be a pretty good curd recipe once I get my math right. Take that, Krusteaz.

Lemon curd
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 T. corn starch
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 t. lemon zest
  • 2 T. butter
Mix egg yolks, corn starch and sugar in a medium sauce pan. Place over low heat and gradually whisk in water and juice. Increase heat to medium and stir constantly until mixture becomes very thick (about five minutes). Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and butter.

In addition to being tasty on lemon bars, curd is great on biscuits or bread. Or on a spoon. Zooming its way to your mouth.

The food: Lemon curd
The verdict: When life gives you lemons, make curd -- but with the proper water-to-juice ratio

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Onion Ring Debate

Reasons not to make onion rings:
  1. They're bad for you.
  2. It takes forever.
  3. It makes a mess of your kitchen.
  4. Your house smells for days.
  5. You run a strong risk of burning your fingers.
Reasons to make onion rings:
  1. Yum.
The yum wins.