Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best. Take peaches and cream, for instance. When a peach is ripe and in season, it doesn’t need much to taste good, though a dollop of fluffy, chilled cream brightened with a hint of lime and ginger certainly doesn’t hurt.
Now, Texans love peaches and rightfully so, as Texas peaches are indeed the best. This isn’t brag, just a statement of fact. Trust me—I’ve eaten peaches from all over and Texas peaches are indeed the juiciest and sweetest peaches of all.
If you’re not in Texas in the summertime, then peaches just may well be the thing you miss the most. Texas farmers don’t ship their peaches out of state, as they’re a fragile fruit that don’t travel very well. So if I do find myself home in the summer, I stop at almost every truck or stand by the side of the road and grab a few to eat as I make my way.
This time last year I was in Texas and was driving from Houston to visit my grandma at her farm. Along the way I stopped in Fairfield to pick up a basket of peaches to take to her, as her tree hadn’t produced ripe fruit just yet.
While Hill Country peaches may be the most famous Texas peaches, I believe that Fairfield peaches are mighty fine peaches, too. It’s not for nothing that Fairfield is in Freestone County, a designation that guarantees your peach-eating experience will be a joyful one.
That said, in my recollection most peaches in Texas are freestone, a term that means that the pit doesn’t stick to the fruit; the opposite of freestone is clingstone or cling peaches, as my grandma calls them, where the pit sticks to the fruit. Like myself, she’s not much of a fan.
“Cling peaches are best for pickling,” she told me. “Though if you ask me, that’s a waste of a good peach,” she said. (My first book has a recipe for pickled peaches, if you’re interested.) This sentiment from her, however, wasn’t surprising. While my grandma is famous for her peach pies and peach cobblers, her take on peaches and cream may be her best peach dessert of all.
On that visit last year, after a simple light supper she took a couple of the peaches I had brought, sliced them, placed them into bowls, and then grabbed some frozen dollops of whipped cream from the freezer. She topped the sliced peaches with the frozen whipped cream and we then tucked into the bowls of peaches and cream. It was heavenly.
The peaches were ripe, juicy, and still warm from the sun. The frozen dollops of whipped cream—a preparation she did to preserve some whipped cream she had leftover from another occasion—was a refreshing topping as the cream was firm and cold yet not heavy as ice cream can be.
While we could have easily served the peaches with freshly whipped cream, the extra-cold cream was welcome on a hot day. While plain whipped cream is very good, the addition of fresh lime zest and ginger livened up the cream without overpowering the delicate peaches. Likewise, when peaches are in season they don’t need much coaxing to taste good, but if the peaches hadn’t been as juicy or sweet as we like them, gently cooking the slices in a little butter and brown sugar would have been enough to make them shine.
We were silent as we ate our fresh peaches and cream, just enjoying the perfect slices of summertime fruit. When I finished my bowl, I asked her for another. She agreed that another bowl would be good and so we went back into the kitchen, sliced more peaches, and placed them into our bowls with the frozen whipped cream.
While it didn’t take much effort, these bowls of peaches and cream were the perfect end to a summer day. And we both agreed, that sometimes the simplest dishes are indeed the best.
Peaches and ginger-lime whipped cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
8 large ripe peaches, preferably freestone
1 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
To make the whipped cream, first place the mixing bowl and the beater in the freezer for at least 20 minutes so they can chill.
To whip the cream, place in the chilled mixing bowl the cream, sugar, lime zest, vanilla extract, and ginger and then whip with the chilled beater until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over whip the cream. If you’re going to serve the cream with the peaches immediately, skip the next step.
If you’re going to freeze individual dollops of whipped cream so you can serve the cream later, line a sheet pan that will fit in your freezer with parchment paper. Scoop 8 even-sized scoops onto the sheet, place the sheet uncovered in the freezer, and let the cream sit until chilled and hard, about 2 hours. To store the dollops, remove the sheet from the freezer, and then gently place the frozen dollops into a storage container next to each other, placing parchment paper between each layer if you need to stack the frozen dollops.
It’s up to you if you want to serve your peaches peeled or not. I’m fine with them unpeeled but you may prefer them peeled and that’s cool, too. If you want to peel them, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and make an X incision on each axis of each peach. Place the peaches in the boiling water and let them boil for 30 seconds. With a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the peaches and then run them under cold water, gently peeling off the skins. Repeat until all the peaches are peeled.
Slice the peaches, peeled or unpeeled, in half, remove the pits, and then slice each half into 4 slices. Taste the peaches. If they’re sweet and soft enough for your taste, go ahead and place them into bowls and then top each bowl of sliced peaches with a dollop or two of the whipped cream, either fresh or frozen, and then serve.
If the peaches are too tart and hard, you can cook them for a few minutes to make them more sweet and soft. To do this, heat the butter in a large, deep skillet on low heat and stir in the brown sugar. When both the butter and the brown sugar have melted, after about a minute or so, add the peach slices to the skillet. Gently stir the slices until they’re lightly coated in the sugary butter, and then cook for a couple of minutes until the peaches are fragrant, juicy, and soft. Spoon the peaches along with the melted butter and juices into bowls then top with the whipped cream.
Yield: 4-8 servings
Note: This dessert is meant to showcase ripe, in-season peaches. To tell if they’re ripe, they should be soft (don’t squeeze them, though, as they’ll easily bruise) and smell fragrant. If your peaches are firm, let them sit out on the counter overnight and they should be ripe by the next day. You also want your peaches to be preferably freestone, as this guarantees the fruit won’t stick to the pit.
While you can certainly serve the peaches with freshly whipped cream, I’d never seen whipped cream frozen into individual dollops and thought it was a terrific idea, as it makes this a great do-ahead dessert. Matter of fact, if you find that you like having frozen whipped cream on hand, you can easily double the recipe, too.
Monday, August 04, 2014
Friday, July 18, 2014
Texans love pickles. For instance, it’s the rare gathering in Texas that doesn’t have a pickle plate on display. This platter of tangy vegetables and fruits is not only a satisfying way to get the party started, but also an excellent way to share the bounty of what you’ve put up in the past year.
Though it’s not just on social occasions that Texans enjoy pickles. Nope, Texans eat pickles all the time, as a pickle’s tangy, crisp nature is the perfect foil for many Texan dishes, anything from smoked brisket to chili con queso. Matter of fact, The First Texas Cook Book, which was published in 1887, has two whole chapters devoted to the subject.
While the season for eating pickles occurs year round, the best time to make them is in the summer, when your garden is overflowing with things that need to be eaten or preserved. Typically, when people think of pickles the first thing that comes to mind is a pickled cucumber, which is the most ubiquitous type of pickle. Of course, it has a reason for being so prominent in that a cucumber makes for a fine pickle with its tough skin and firm center. It absorbs the brine beautifully, managing to be crisp and juicy at the same time.
That said, one can pickle just about anything and if you’re like me, this time of year your refrigerator is overflowing with various jars stuffed with things that have been preserved in a brine—sometimes spicy, sometimes sour, and sometimes sweet. When it comes to pickling, I’m an equal-opportunity pickle maker.
If you’re a fan of cucumber pickles and you find yourself with an abundance of zucchini, allow me to present to you these spicy dill zucchini pickles, a fine way to use up some of the squash that is everywhere this time of year. You may be thinking that zucchini is too soft to pickle and I will admit that they are indeed not as firm as their cucumber counterparts. But don’t worry; zucchini pickles are still crunchy and refreshing with that familiar tangy bite.
Making pickles is not difficult. There are many ways to pickle, but for these zucchini pickles I opt for a quick and easy method. First, I put into my jars a mixture of dill, garlic, peppercorns, spices, and salt. Then I slice my zucchini and pack it into the jars. I boil some vinegar and water, pour it over the zucchini, put on the lid, and then place it in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Before you know it, you’ll have a jar or two of pickled zucchini that are fine enough for eating on their own but also add life to sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, hotdogs, or even tacos, if that’s your style. You can also toss the pickled zucchini with sour cream for a quick creamy side dish. And if you're feeling extra decadent, it would make for a fine basket of fried pickles, too.
If you’ve never had pickled zucchini, the concept may seem a little strange, I know. But once you take a cool, crisp bite and taste its sour, spicy flavor, I believe you’ll stick your fork in the jar and reach for more. After all, Texans love pickles.
Spicy dill zucchini pickles
1 pound zucchini
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs dill
4 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons crushed dried jalapeño or crushed red chile
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup water, plus more warm water as needed
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
2 sterilized quart-sized jars with lids and bands
Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch round slices. Divide the garlic, dill, salt, peppercorns, mustard seeds, crushed jalapeño or red chile, and cumin seeds between the two jars. Pack the sliced zucchini into the jars.
In a medium saucepan, combine the water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Evenly pour the boiling liquid into each jar, filling any remaining space with warm water, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Put the lids on the jars and give them a good shake.
Place the jars in the refrigerator. The zucchini will be ready in 4 hours, though their flavor will only improve after a couple more days.
The zucchini will last refrigerated for 1 month.
Yield: 2 quarts
Notes: This recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, or cut in half. While I prefer round pickle slices, you could also cut the zucchini into spears, if you prefer.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Since I don’t have a backyard in New York, I’ve always had to rely on the kindness of others when it comes to outdoor dining. Fortunately, however, I have friends with yards who enjoy inviting people to their homes for smoked briskets, sausage, and ribs. Since you can’t arrive empty handed I have long learned that a good side dish is always welcome, and this time of year I’m making them often.
While I do have my old favorites that are always appreciated, I’m always looking for new ones to keep things interesting for both my friends and me. While I have a lot of recipes to choose from, sometimes I’ll find myself throwing stuff together at the last minute, hoping that it works. But this is the beauty with salads—as long as the components complement each other, it’s hard to go wrong.
One dish I love is a Texan standard made with black-eyed peas, peppers, and tomatoes. It’s commonly known as Texas caviar, a name bestowed upon it by the late, great Dallas chef and cookbook author Helen Corbitt. Last summer, however, I saw a black-eyed pea salad made with hominy, an addition that isn’t usually found. Since you don’t often see hominy in a cold preparation, I was intrigued.
That said, I soon learned that this wasn’t a completely new thing as hominy salads have been on record since the 1800s. In old cookbooks you’ll see hominy salads made like a potato salad, where instead of said tubers you toss the hominy with the dressings, aromatics, peppers, and eggs. Cold hominy salads mixed with proteins such as boiled chicken or lobster were also popular back in the day, as well.
Hominy, which is corn that has been treated with the mineral lime until it blooms and puff, has a distinct toasted flavor. And as this treated corn is also the same used in making masa for corn tortillas, I find that hominy pairs especially well with beans, so adding it to a black-eyed pea salad made sense. Yet I have to admit that I prefer hominy with pinto beans, so when I set out to make a salad with hominy, that’s what I chose to use instead.
To make my pinto bean and hominy salad, I took a few cups of leftover pinto beans, drained them, and then tossed them with some hominy. (While you could make the hominy from scratch, I took the easy route and used canned.) I then threw in some red bell pepper, jalapeño, tomatoes, red onion, garlic, cilantro, and lots of lime juice. For a bit of depth, I also stirred in a few dashes of earthy cumin and smoked paprika. To finish, I garnished the salad with salty, tangy Cotija cheese, though crumbles of feta cheese would work just as well.
My instincts were correct and the salad was very satisfying. Though I’m not surprised as it’s hard to go wrong with creamy beans, chewy hominy, and crunchy vegetables all tossed with a bright and lively dressing.
While I had a hard time stopping myself from sneaking bites, I did manage to bring most of it to a gathering and everyone concurred—this pinto bean and hominy salad was a keeper. And when you make this (and I think you should), you’ll have a fresh side dish that will be the hit of your next barbecue. Matter of fact, if you love pinto beans, this pinto bean and hominy salad might just become the main event.
Pinto bean and hominy salad
4 cups cooked pinto beans, drained or 2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can hominy, drained
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered or 2 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and diced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled or 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
In a large bowl, add the pinto beans, hominy, red onion, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, red bell pepper, and jalapeño. Toss until well combined.
Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, cumin, and smoked paprika. Pour over the beans and stir until evenly distributed. Stir in the Cotija or feta cheese. Add salt to taste.
While you can serve it immediately, it tastes better if covered and chilled for at least an hour.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings