Baking TM_BK_PEARS_FI_001

It’s easy to get swarmed by the flavors of fall. From baked goods and main dishes to coffee and even beer, it seems like everywhere you turn is apple-cinnamon this or pumpkin-spice that. Fall is my favorite season, so I’ll admit that I’m guilty of embracing all of it (as I sit here in my room with my cinnamon pumpkin wall plug-in). And the amount of apple pies, tarts, butters, and strudels I make can get a little obsessive.

It’s important to remember that the season brings so much more than just apples and pumpkins. Take pears, for example. They’re in season beginning in late August, meaning that right now they are hitting their peak. I myself, being an equal opportunist, am putting a hold on my apple-fest and shifting my dessert focus to pears.

Why have pears become fall’s forgotten fruit? In many ways, a pear can be used in the same ways apples are. Like an apple, pears have a thin, but tough outer skin with a crisp and juicy center. These tender, yet firm fruits lend themselves to a variety of uses. You can enjoy them whole, diced into a salad, juiced, pureed, and even baked. That’s one of pears’ little secrets: They are just as wonderful for baked goods such as pies, tarts, and cakes as the fall favorite, apples. MORE

Baking TM_BK_FIGS_FI_001

As summer begins to make way for the cooler months ahead, many bakers aren’t just looking forward to autumn, the time of all things pumpkin and cinnamon-sprinkled. We also know that precious figs are in their prime in September, finding their way to farmers markets and into our kitchens.

For those of us who can summon the willpower to not devour each and every fig we bring home — and truly, eating a fresh fig in the peak of the season is possibly best way to taste the warm, sweet days of summer — we can reward ourselves with the next best thing: baking with figs. MORE

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During late summers, I become almost fruitarian. Sometimes, nearing the dinner hour, I suddenly realize that the only things I’ve eaten all day have been fresh melon, berries, nectarines, and plums.

The root of this fruity love affair is clearly my childhood summers, which I spent at my family’s open-air, roadside produce stand in southern New Jersey. My cousins and I sold fruit and vegetables in a makeshift wooden structure with hand-written signs at the edge of property owned by my father and uncle’s packing house. I worked there pretty much from the first grade, when I had a little corner where I sold little containers of bruised and overripe “seconds” under a sign that read “Bargain Table. Everything 50 cents.”

By the time I was about 12, I awoke before sunrise and — before eating breakfast — pedaled my bike a few miles over to the packing house, where we kept our produce in huge refrigeration rooms. I enjoyed whizzing down the loading dock on an electric pallet jack, and I loved the sensation of zipping into the cold and then back out into the warm summer air. I mostly worked alone, unless an onion truck had just arrived, and then one of my dad’s employees might decide he needed to “help” me, instead of unloading 50-pound bags of onions. My job was to get the pallets ready on the loading dock before my cousin arrived in his pickup truck, back from a daily run to the farms or from the produce terminal in the city. MORE

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There was a plate of sliced mangoes on our table. Yet again. For probably the twentieth day in a row. This was the tradition for as long as I can remember; mangoes were daily essentials during the spring and summer months in my Indian household.

“Eat mango every day so your body can stock up on fiber for the year!” my mom said to me. She said it like fiber was a tough thing to come across. Plate after plate, mango after mango. By the end of the season I was absolutely sick of them. My taste buds have been repelling mangoes, when taken in excess, for years. By day three of the three-month-long stretch, I’m usually scolded if I don’t finish the golden fruit.

“Finish your mango! They’re expensive and ripe only this time of year!”
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Letter From California TM_ORANGE_FI_001

I grew up in the frigid northeast, so I know what a jerk I sound like to all of you winter-locked folks when I tell you that, as of mid-March, the orange trees behind my Los Angeles house were in bloom. The flowers are early this year – according to the Porterville Recorder (the local paper for Porterville, CA, which is about 160 miles north of LA) an official citrus bloom isn’t usually declared until after April 1. But the recent summery temperatures have brought the bloom on early, and the small white flowers smell amazing. The scent reminds me of opening a bottle of Pond’s Cold Cream as a child – a deep, rich perfume that begs to be inhaled and re-inhaled.

Despite this lovely blossoming, most of the recent news about oranges has not been good. In fact, oranges have had such negative press recently, you’d think that they were Lindsay Lohan on a post-comeback bender*. There are a couple things working against the poor orange. First of all, orange juice sales in the United States have slid by 29% over the last decade. OJ has been losing its place as a breakfast health-food drink** – people have finally realized that juice can have as many calories and as much sugar as soda. And the scandals about how our orange juice is prepared don’t help, either. A few years ago, it was revealed that “not from concentrate” doesn’t mean that juice isn’t processed – in fact, that juice will sit in vats for up to a year, and before it goes to stores, it’s reinvigorated with a taste-boosting “flavor pack” that’s created from oranges, so it doesn’t have to be listed on the bottle as a separate ingredient.***
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In 1999, a company named Breakaway Foods created a line of products called IncrEdibles. Packaged in tubes with sticks at the bottom, the IncrEdibles family consisted of savory, meal-replacing treats that could be heated in the microwave and then pushed from the tube and straight into one’s mouth. No utensils were required; all you needed was a food hole in your face ready to receive such appetizing tube products as Macaroni & Cheese, Chili Mac, and Scrambled Eggs with Cheese and Sausage. The IncrEdibles press release also used the phrase “push n’ eat” [sic]. Apparently if you don’t have time to eat food with a fork, you don’t have time to say the letter “i” either.
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Bookshelf

Into the Wild Brew Yonder

Jump into the wide world of small-batch brewing with True Brews

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My first encounter with homemade kombucha took place about 10 years ago. My younger sister had been brewing a batch in our parents’ sunroom when she was offered a last-minute job at a summer camp. She left her gallon of tea and SCOBY (also known as the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) behind when she left to take the gig, and not knowing what to do with it, my parents let it sit. A month later, I came to visit and my mom asked if I’d help her dispose of the contents of the jar.

By that point, the bacteria and yeast creature in the jar had grown to be approximately four inches thick and had a disturbing flesh-like consistency. It took the liberal application of a serrated bread knife to free it from the jar and when I was finished wrestling it out to the compost heap, I swore that I’d never again tangle with something so otherworldly.

However, fast-forward a decade and you’ll find that I am now eating those words. I’ve been brewing kombucha in my own kitchen for the last six months or so and have found it to be easy, delicious, and satisfying. What’s more, it has made me deeply curious about the many other kinds of homebrews and liquid ferments I can make in my small city apartment. MORE

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When I was very young, I was entirely preoccupied by the color pink. I wanted all my clothes to be pink, played only with my Strawberry Shortcake doll, and longed for my meals to be exclusively pink. My parents responded to this phase by dyeing my pajamas pink, buying me a pair of inexpensive Strawberry Shortcake sneakers, and serving me a dish of strawberries with nearly every meal.

These days, I’m not nearly so mad for the color pink. In fact, the only vestige of my early obsession is the fact that come strawberry season, I go a little berry crazy. I buy pounds and pounds and make jams, purees, tarts, pies, salads, and dressings.
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Bookshelf

Higher Vegucation

Stuck in a veggie slump? Vegetable Literacy can help

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I have been in something of a cooking slump since mid-February. When the Brussels sprouts first arrived in late fall, I bought them by the stalk and brandished them joyfully. Now, I recoil slightly at the bin of sprouts at Iovine’s. I’ve been similarly unmoved by potatoes, kale, and dense winter squashes for weeks.

I thought it was simply a general weariness with winter that was causing my resentment towards the available produce. However, now I realize that I was simply suffering from the effects of a rut – because since a copy of Deborah Madison’s new book, Vegetable Literacy, arrived last week, I have found myself picking up beets, carrots, and onions with fresh inspiration and no small amount of giddiness.
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Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_FRYNG_FI_001

One of the rules I’ve come to adopt as a life tenet is that sometimes, you just gotta say f— it.

Since my boyfriend and I began dating about five years ago, we’ve been compiling a list of wise saws to live by. (My secret hope is that one day, if/when we live together, I will crochet this list into an heirloom wall hanging.)

So far, we have a whopping total of three. 1. The above. 2. Listen to some good music every day. And 3. Don’t be an asshole.

For a former overachiever, the first has been the hardest to accept. But I know, deep, down, that truer words have rarely been spoken (or yet crocheted).

It goes for food, too. Sometimes, a nice salad or a lovingly braised chicken is just not going to happen. So sometimes my friends, you just gotta say, fry it.
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Kitchen Hacks

Just Desserts

Fruit, the whole fruit... and a few sweet extras.

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Poached pears
If a couple weeks ago you earnestly pledged yourself to some New Year’s resolution, I’m a little annoyed at you. This is for several reasons.

One, chances are, your resolution involves getting in shape. Not to discourage in-shape-itude here, but the thing is, when all of you, the Resolved, suddenly descend on the gym on January 2nd in your new white sneakers, you take up all the good treadmills before I get there. Then, I get stuck on the old one that squeaks, behind the guy whose butt is exposed, plumber-like, atop his ill-fitting basketball shorts. Yes, this only lasts about a month before you let your memberships languish, but still. Not cool, guys.

Two, resolutions as we know them set us up for disappointment. If your resolution is to abstain from dessert, then the instant you cave and eat an Oreo sometime in February, you feel like a loser and go back to your old ways, inhaling whole sleeves wood-chipper style. And so I’m annoyed at you for depriving yourself of the chance to genuinely improve your relationship with dessert.

So, instead of convincing ourselves we can swear off sweets for good, let’s spend 2013 enjoying a better kind of sweet. The kind the planet invented all by itself.
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Baking

Sour Power

In search of a desirable grapefruit dessert

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A pile of juicy grapefruitWhy are there no classic grapefruit desserts? We love orange souffle, Key lime pie, and lemon bars (and cookies, cake, tart, curd, pudding, ice cream), but the only grapefruit dessert that springs to mind is grapefruit sorbet. Which doesn’t count. Sorbet is extremely cold juice, and however delicious, it is not really dessert.

Is the dearth of grapefruit desserts because people associate the fruit with misery and dieting, not pleasure and indulgence? Or is there something in the nature of a grapefruit that doesn’t lend itself to dessert?

I decided to try grapefruit in different dessert formats. Here with the results:

Cookies. By substituting grapefruit (zest and juice) for lemon in a basic Martha Stewart recipe, I ended up with a tasty cookie that made peoples’ mouths tingle and tasted like Fresca. In a good way! But while all the cookies were eaten, no one begged me to bake them again. MORE

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I simply love grapefruit. For me, the complexity of its bitter-sweet-tart flavors puts it head and shoulders above any of its citrus cousins. Oranges, lemons, and limes: Admit it, you all wish you were grapefruit. Clementines and blood oranges? You have your moments, but they are fleeting. I know star mixologists have fallen in love with the Meyer lemon, the kumquat, the yuzu. But those are just novelty acts.

When it comes to booze, it’s hard to beat the grapefruit for sheer mixability. Gin and aquavit, brandy and bourbon, amari and herbal liqueurs: You name the spirit and there’s a fabulous drink calling for grapefruit juice.

What stands up to smoky mezcal? Grapefruit. In Jalisco, Mexico, where tequila is produced, the favorite local cocktail isn’t a margarita with lime juice. It’s a Paloma, which can be made with grapefruit juice or, via the quickie method, with grapefruit soda.

What was in Ernest Hemingway’s signature drink, the daiquiri variation called the Papa Doble? Well, that would be rhum agricole, maraschino liqueur, lime juice and then a little something else to bring it all together: Grapefruit juice. MORE