Saturday, August 30, 2014

Southern-Style Peach Cobbler with Maple Sugar, Bourbon + Brown Butter {Gluten-Free}

For the past few weeks, I've been hearing talk of summer being over, presumably because of school starting back up in many places. Being neither in school, nor knowing many people who are, the notion of summer being over in mid-August perplexes me. Summer break may have ended, but the season itself doesn't officially end until September 21st, and it doesn't even unofficially end until next Tuesday, post Labor Day.

Unlike the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, summery weather doesn't usually hit San Francisco until September, October, and occasionally November, when Karl the Fog takes his summer vacation. (Yes, our fog not only has a name, he also has an Instagram and a wicked sense of humor.) 

Here in San Francisco, most of our summer looks like this at 2:24.

For me, summer just began last Tuesday. San Francisco farmer's markets and I have a rocky past, so when my friend Lea invited me to join her in Oakland at her local market, I jumped at the chance. "It's pretty small," she warned. But compared to San Francisco's markets, this one was palatial, taking up two wide blocks, and brimming with dozens of organic farm stands, each more plentiful than the next. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. There was so much space to walk around, and no one cut in front of me in line or elbowed me out of the way. I even set my germ phobia aside to taste some stone fruit, which was piled high at nearly every stand.

We stopped at one stand that had a large crowd gathered around a mountain of Oh Henry peaches. I sniffed one, and it was like summer has exploded in my nose. We waited for a sample and, after slipping slices of dripping, bright orange peach into our mouths, we both grabbed a bag and started loading up.

The peaches of late summer are larger and heavier than their June counterparts. Their flesh is dense, their sweet-tart flavor more robust, making them better for baking than the peaches of early summer that taste soft and floral and seem too precious to squander on a pie. 

The Oh Henries were destined for this recipe, a Southern-style cobbler discovered and adapted by my friend Amelia. While I normally think of cobblers as sliced fruit topped with biscuits resembling cobblestones, this is the inverse: a custardy cake batter topped with peach halves. I'm having trouble finding definitive information on the different types of cobblers, but this version seems to have its roots in the South. Either way, it is quite delicious, and easy to make. 

Butter is browned in a skillet, then topped with a loose batter made from flour, sugar and milk and crowned with peach halves. The batter puffs up around the fruit, soaking in the golden butter as it bakes. I added a vanilla bean to the browning butter, which made me think of maple sugar and nutmeg, so I added those to the batter. When Amelia and I tasted the final result, we both thought "bourbon!," so we sprinkled some over the baked cobbler, which added a bit of boozy tartness. 

The dessert comes out like a pudding cake of sorts, gooey and warm, with addictively crispy edges. The peaches soften a bit, holding their shape in perfect little orbs, tender and juicy. We topped bowls of the warm dessert with Vanilla Buttermilk Ice Cream, which makes a cool and creamy foil to the warm fruit.

To make this gluten-free, we first tried 3/4 cup millet flour, 1/4 cup tapioca flour, and 2 tablespoons cornstarch. This combination worked beautifully, but when we added the bourbon, it brought out the bitter notes of the millet and tapioca. We switched to a combination of sweet white rice flour and less millet, with gave the cake a puffy, smooth texture and milder flavor. The one caveat is that the high moisture content reacts with the rice flour to make a slightly sticky/chewy texture. Next time, I'll try swapping in 1/4 cup sorghum flour for an equal amount of the sweet rice flour, but I wanted to get this recipe posted in time for Labor day festivities, while it is still semi-officially summer.

Besides, I won't be able to get my hands on any Woodleaf Farm peaches before next Tuesday when I journey back to Oakland for my farmer's market fix. 

Wishing everyone a happy rest-of-summer, however long it lasts.

Millions of peaches:

One year ago:

Southern-Style Peach Cobbler with Maple Sugar, Bourbon + Brown Butter {Gluten-Free}

Adapted from my friend Amelia, who adapted it from an online recipe she jotted down years ago

I used millet and sweet white rice flours here, but I think regular rice flour, sorghum flour, or an all-purpose flour blend would work well, too. If gluten isn't an issue for you or your guests, feel free to make this with 1 cup all-purpose flour, omitting the cornstarch and chia. I'm fairly certain that you could use buttermilk in the batter in place of whole milk if you prefer. If you don't have peaches, I think this could be made with apricots, plums, poached pears or quinces, and/or berries instead. 

All ounce measurements are by weight. 

Makes 6-8 servings

6 tablespoons (3 ounces / 85 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 plump vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1 cup (8 ounces / 235 mL) whole milk
1 tablespoon ground chia seed
3/4 cup (3.75 ounces / 105 grams) maple sugar (or light brown sugar)
1/2 cup (2.75 ounces / 80 grams) sweet white rice flour
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces / 70 grams) millet flour
2 tablespoons (.5 ounces / 15 grams) cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
a good grating fresh nutmeg (~1/8 teaspoon)
4-5 medium-large peaches, ripe but firm, peeled and halved, pits removed
2 tablespoons organic blonde cane sugar (or maple sugar)
2-3 tablespoons bourbon (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF.

In a 9- or 10-inch oven-proof skillet, melt the butter with the vanilla pod and scrapings over a medium flame. Continue cooking, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns golden with dark flecks and smells nutty, 5-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside, removing the vanilla pod once you are ready to add the batter. 

Meanwhile, stir together the milk with the chia seed and set it aside to thicken. In a large bowl, whisk together the maple sugar, rice flour, millet flour, cornstarch, baking powder, sea salt and nutmeg. Whisk in the milk mixture until the batter is smooth and well-combined. It will be fairly runny. 

Pour the batter into the hot, butter-filled pan. Place the peaches atop the batter, cut-side down, and sprinkle all over with the sugar. Bake the cobbler for 30-40 minutes. It is done when:

-The edges are puffed and golden and pulling way from the sides of the pan.
-The peaches are bubbling furiously.
-The cobbler is set with you give it a shuffle. 
-A toothpick inserted into the batter comes out with moist crumbs. 
-If you peek inside the batter with the tip of a knife, the cobbler looks fluffy and airy. 

Remove the cobbler from the oven. If using the bourbon, drizzle it all over the hot cobbler and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. Scoop servings into bowls and top with something cool and creamy, such as Vanilla Buttermilk Ice Cream. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cobbler will keep at room temperature for several hours, and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Re-warm before serving. (Don't store it in a cast-iron skillet as it may pick up flavors from the pan and/or remove the seasoning.)

Vanilla Buttermilk Ice Cream

This ice cream is like vanilla ice cream on crack. Or the tangy version of crack, whatever that is. Pop rocks, maybe. Anyway, I made it to go with a Southern-style peach cobbler (in keeping with the Southern theme), but it turned out to be better than just an accompaniment. The ice cream can also take center stage.

Around here, we usually have several dessert options on any given day. Frequently, there is a new baked good experiment – a pie or tart, a batch of cookies, sometimes a pavlova or shortcake. If that fails, we usually keep a bar or two of fancy chocolate around for postprandial sweet cravings. When we run out of chocolate, we turn to the freezer, where there may be a jar of ice cream, a popsicle, or a sandwich tucked away. It's a rough life.

Lately though, our nightly dessert has been this ice cream, either melting atop a scoop of peach cobbler, or topped with fresh blackberries. It is versatile, like regular vanilla ice cream, but taken up a notch with tangy buttermilk.

I've tried several buttermilk ice cream recipes over the years, but none really did it for me. I wanted a clean-tasting ice cream, rich from a custard base yet fresh from tangy buttermilk. I don't know why it took me so long to adapt this one from my favorite vanilla ice cream recipe, but I'm glad I did, as the result was just what I'd been looking for.

The buttermilk around here is all low-fat, thus lightening up this ice cream a bit. Yet ample cream, sugar, and egg yolks keep it rich and creamy. I made a second batch yesterday in order to photograph the process, and while I usually dread having too many sweet leftovers from blogsperiments, I get a thrill every time I open the freezer to see two jars of this stuff staring back at me. 

Jay and I are headed to Marin today to teach some friends how to make croissants. Hopefully we'll find some berries to forage for future desserts, 'cause we've got a lot of ice cream to get through...

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We all scream for:

Vanilla Buttermilk Ice Cream

This ice cream will be creamiest if the base is allowed to chill for 4-24 hours prior to churning, but you can stick it in a metal bowl over an ice water bath to chill it quickly if you're in a hurry. Serve it with any fruit dessert (Peach Cobbler, for instance), or with fresh berries. I love my Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment, which uses the motor of a stand mixer to do its dirty work, and stays out of the way in the freezer until I need it. 

Makes about 1 quart

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces / 300mL) heavy cream
1/2 plump vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces / 100 grams) sugar (I use organic blonde cane sugar)
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large egg yolks
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces / 300mL) buttermilk 

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, vanilla pod and scrapings, sugar and salt. Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Cover and steep 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set the bowl on a damp kitchen towel. Measure out the buttermilk and have it by the stove. 

When the cream has steeped, drizzle it slowly into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pot and cook over a low flame, stirring constantly with a heat-proof silicone spatula, until the mixture thickens slightly, begins to "stick" (form a film on) the bottom of the pan, and/or registers 170ºF on an instant read thermometer. Immediately stir in the buttermilk to stop the cooking, then strain the mixture through a mesh sieve and into a bowl or jar. Cover and chill the mixture until very cold, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days. 

Churn the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions, then scrape into a container and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours. The ice cream is creamiest within the first week of churning, but it will keep in the freezer for up to a month or two. Store it airtight with a piece of parchment paper pressed directly to the surface to prevent ice crystals from forming.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cucumber Melon Caprese Salad

I went out to an impromptu dinner the other night with my dear friend Amelia at what might just be my current favorite restaurant. Piccino is in the Dogpatch, the next door neighborhood to Potrero Hill. A moderate walk from our home, it has superb food and a relaxed, neighborhoody vibe that is thankfully devoid of Mission hipsters. Their menu changes frequently to reflect peak-of-season produce, and yet they refrain from taking every given opportunity to tell you so. Though the restaurant has seemed filled to capacity every time I've wandered inside, we've always been able to find a seat at the bar or tucked into a corner. The atmosphere is busy yet welcoming, the decor sparse but warm. It is just perfect.

During my handful of visits to Piccino, I've had many dishes that stay on my mind for days afterward. There were fried wedges of polenta topped with oozing burrata and greens; an eggplant pizza bianca topped with roasted sweet peppers perched atop a crisp, tender crust; a thyme-scented madeleine served with strawberries and rhubarb. Their wine list is organized by flavor profile, a help to someone like me who knows what I want though not how to order it. I'm always impressed by the unique tableware, making it clear that all the little details are being attended to.

On this particular night, Amelia and I bellied up to the bar that surrounds their open kitchen stocked with freakishly attractive staff, and ordered some bubbly.

Or at least, we tried. "Just so you know," the server informed us, "that sparkling wine isn't very bubbly. It's only slightly frizzante."

This description struck us as comical. "I think I'll tell the guy I'm dating that I'm only slightly frizzante about him," Amelia mused as we sipped from our glasses. 

We didn't mind the gentle fizz of the wine, in fact it went perfectly with the food: a cucumber melon caprese salad, seasoned with peppery olive oil and arranged in a dainty stack; thin-crust pizza topped with prosciutto and peaches; and the biggest surprise of all, rye gnocchi served in whey and flanked by morsels of smoked potatoes which was one of the most interesting and delicious things I've ever tasted in my life.

I'm usually only slightly frizzante when it comes to melons, as evidenced by the fact that there is only a sole other melon recipe on this site and it is also a salad spiked with cheese and herbs, but in the case of this salad, I was entirely effervescent. The play of textures – soft, crispy, gooey – and flavors – sweet, tart, clean, peppery – kept me dreaming of this salad long after it had been washed down by pizza, pasta, wine, two desserts, and more wine. 

I had to have more, but since I can't afford to drop fifteen dollars on a salad every night, I would have to make it myself.

Luckily, a salad is far easier to reverse engineer than, say, rye gnocchi with whey and smoked potatoes (though if they don't put that back on their menu, I may have no choice). I bought a couple of melons at the co-op, a galia and a charentais, some lemon and Persian cucumbers, and a ball of mozzarella. Liking a bit of green in my salads, I grabbed a bunch of purslane and wild arugula as well. I had just tried purslane for the first time in a watermelon, feta, and heirloom tomato salad at Marinita's in San Anselmo and liked its crunchy texture and mild, slightly citric flavor reminiscent of sour grass. Plus it just looks cool.

I sliced everything up and tossed it with plenty of good olive oil, white wine vinegar, flaky salt and cracked black pepper, then made it into dainty stacks alla Piccino. It's my current favorite salad, the one I crave all day, every day, but especially during warm summer days. Even Jay, who considers salads a sacred place for vegetables and normally views fruit as an unwelcome intruder digs it. This is fortunate, since two small melons have already provided four rounds of the stuff.

This salad makes the most of melon's quiet flavor and soft texture which complement tangy vinegar, crunchy cucumber, spicy greens, and mild, salty cheese. 

It has also changed my mind about melon. The other day I found myself ordering a melon mimosa when lunching at Local Mission Eatery with my friends Princess Tofu and Pete Lee. I was surprised to discover my excitement not only for the sparkling wine, but also for the melon, which tasted delicate and floral...

...and quite frizzante. 

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Salad Days:

One year ago:

Cucumber Melon Caprese Salad with Mint and Purslane

Inspired by a salad of the same name from Piccino

This is the sort of recipe that is suited to eyeballing and seasoning to taste, but here are the quantities that I used for guidance. You can either stack your salads as instructed, or simply strew everything onto a plate and have at it. Using two melons and two cucumbers of different varieties lends a fun contrast of flavors and textures, but use whatever you've got. I found purslane and wild arugula at our co-op, but another peppery green would work just as well, such as watercress or peppercress, or a chicory such as frisee or radicchio.

Makes 2 appetizer-sized salads, or 1 light-meal-sized salad

8-10 (1/4" thick) slices from 1/4 of a small Charentais melon (or cantaloupe)
8-10 (1/4" thick) slices from 1/4 of a small Galia melon (or cantaloupe)
~3/4 cup thinly sliced cucumber (I used some lemon cucumber and Persain cucumber)
a large handful arugula greens, tough stems removed, washed and dried
a large handful purslane greens, tough stems removed, washed and dried
a small handful basil leaves, torn into large pieces
a small handful mint leaves, torn into large pieces
1 tablespoon good olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2-3 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
4-6 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained on paper towels, halved, and sliced 1/4" thick

In a large bowl, combine the melon and cucumber slices with the arugula, purslane, basil, and mint. Drizzle the olive oil and 2 teaspoons vinegar over the top, and sprinkle over the 1/8 teaspoon flaky salt and the cracked pepper. Use your hands to gently toss the components together. Taste, adding more vinegar, salt, or anything else you like until the flavors pop. 

For stacked salads, make a ring with 2 each of the melon slices. Top with cucumber slices, a quarter of the mozzarella, and a mound of greens. Repeat to make two layers of each ingredient. Repeat with salad number 2. Drizzle a little more olive oil, flaky salt, and cracked black pepper over the top. Serve right away, preferably with a glass of crisp white wine. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Zinfandel Grape, Rosemary + Gin Crush

When my friend Shawn (now famous for hating on rum) was opening his new bar Driftwood last year, he was looking for hot-shot bartenders. I'd secretly always dreamed of being a bartender, so my ears perked up one evening when he started detailing a recent interview.

"This guy said he's the master of the three-minute cocktail. So I started counting. 1, 2, 3... all the way to 30. I was like, 'That's 30 seconds. If you haven't made three drinks by now, YOU'RE FIRED!'"

And that is why I'll never be a bartender.

Bar cocktails tend to rely on infusions, syrups, tinctures, bitters, amari, and such; all fast ways to add flavor to spirits. Just pour everything into a shaker, make a show of joggling the thing with your buff and often tattooed arms, strain it into a chilled glass, and voilà: you (probably) won't get fired.

And then there's me. Luckily, I'm not on the clock because not only am I incredibly slow at everything I do, most of my drinks start with labor-intensive (though bicep-enhancing) muddling. For this drink, grapes and rosemary get the bejeezus squished out of them for a good thirty seconds in order to extract both their juice and deep purple hue. A touch of sugar gives the drink just the right level of sweetness, and gin and lemon juice turn it into a grown-up beverage. The mixture is strained through a fine mesh sieve, which takes a bit of mashing and pressing to get out all the good stuff. The drink is stirred with ice, then strained again into ice-filled tumblers where it gets topped with a splash of fizzy water and a rosemary sprig. Sure, you could cook the grapes to extract their juice and color, and make rosemary simple syrup to have at the ready, but I like the freshness that raw ingredients add here.

I had never experienced wine grapes before, but a vintage Le Creuset baking dish full of them found their way to me from wine country via my friend Shawna (not to be confused with Shawn). Shawna brought them and a box full of plates, bowls, and silverware for me to borrow from her friend Jilla who lives on a vineyard outside of Healdsburg. The grapes were tasty on their own – complex and not too sweet – but their thick skins and big seeds made them not ideal for eating. My friend Amelia suggested using them in a beverage since they're wine grapes and all, so I've been muddling them into this drink.

The piney notes of rosemary and juniper add complexity and gravitas to the sweet and mild grapes, and a shot of lemon brings the drink into balance. As a nod to the Tom Collins, I serve this over ice with a splash of fizzy water, but you could just as easily strain it into a chilled glass for something stronger. 

If you don't have wine grapes on hand, you can make this with table grapes (black for a similar color, or green or red if that's what you've got) though you may want to omit the sugar and up the lemon if needed since those can be sweeter. I can't wait to try this with Concord grapes when I can get my hands on some; I'm guessing I'll need to reduce the amount of grapes to 1/4 or 1/3 cup since they are sweeter and stronger-tasting than other varieties.

Regardless of how labor-intensive this cocktail is, it's still a relatively quick way to get your grapes into alcoholic form.

Because wine: that really takes a long time.

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Zinfandel Grape, Rosemary + Gin Crush

Zinfandel grapes are less sweet than table grapes, with velvety-soft floral notes and tough skins and seeds. They work brilliantly in beverages (obviously), but this drink can be made with other varieties of wine grapes, or with purple table grapes or concord grapes. Since other varieties may be sweeter, adjust the sugar and lemon juice according to your taste. (If making this with Concords, try reducing the quantity of grapes to 1/3 cup). Also feel free to dial up or down the rosemary; I found that 1 loosely packed tablespoon of fairly long needles yielded a mild woodsy taste that blended well with the gin. 

Speaking of gin, we tested this with New Amsterdam, a mild and fairly inexpensive gin, as well as St. George Terroir and Botanivore, which have more assertive flavorings. We both liked the Botanivore best on first sip, with its milder, sweeter flavor, but as the ice melted we preferred the more assertively junipery flavor of the Terroir. The New Amsterdam was very mild and yielded a less complex drink that would be pleasing to sensitive palates. Feel free to experiment with your favorite gins, too (and report your findings!). I tend to prefer my cocktails served over ice with fizzy water as shown here, but feel free to serve this "up" by simply straining it into chilled glasses. I use a small shot of gin here (1 1/2 ounces), but feel free to up that to 2 ounces for more oomph.

Makes 1 drink

1/2 cup Zinfandel (or other purple-skinned) grapes
1 loosely packed tablespoon rosemary needles
1 teaspoon sugar (I use organic blonde cane sugar)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) gin (such as my favorite, St. George Terroir), preferably chilled
sparkling water

In a jar or cocktail shaker, combine the grapes, rosemary, and sugar. Use a muddling stick to mash the grapes to a pulp; the more you mash, the more color you'll extract from the skins and the more flavor will come out of the rosemary. Work in the lemon juice, then the gin. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract all the good stuff. Stir with ice, then strain into a glass filled with ice, and top off with a splash of sparkling water (more or less according to your taste). (Alternatively, shake the drink vigorously with ice and strain into chilled glasses for a stronger drink.)